The House on Mango Street

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Themes and Colors
Language and Names Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Foreigness and Society Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Dreams and Beauty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The House on Mango Street, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Foreigness and Society Theme Icon

The House on Mango Street is set in a Latino community in Chicago, and on one level it is about building a cultural identity in a society where Latinos are seen as foreign. Throughout the book, Esperanza must struggle against the feelings of shame and isolation that come with living in the barrio – she is ashamed of her shabby house and how her classmates see her as “different.” Cathy, her first friend in the neighborhood, represents the people who leave when Latino families move into the neighborhood, and the white people of “Those Who Don’t” who are afraid when they drive past. Esperanza’s struggle against these prejudices leads to a dream of a house of her own—a house she owns, loves, and of which she can be proud—and finding freedom and identity through her writing.

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Foreigness and Society Quotes in The House on Mango Street

Below you will find the important quotes in The House on Mango Street related to the theme of Foreigness and Society.
Chapter 4 Quotes

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting… It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse – which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female – but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Language is another of the most important themes in The House on Mango Street, and the constant tension between English- and Spanish-speaking reflects the precarious, perhaps temporary, presence these characters have along Mango Street. The Spanish language marks Esperanza and the others as "foreign" to other people but also ties them to their culture and their families.

Within the category of language, names are especially important to Esperanza, who almost always notes the names of her neighbors as important parts of their vignettes. In this passage, Esperanza reflects on her own name. It's a family name, her great-grandmother's, and in this reflection Esperanza reveals a deep understanding of her own name; clearly she has asked her family about the name and remembered all the details. Named after her great-grandmother because they were both born in the Chinese year of the horse, Esperanza's personal history crosses the boundary to yet another culture. But even there, where "the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don't like their women strong," she cannot escape the realities of her society's gender roles.


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Chapter 5 Quotes

You want a friend, she says. Okay, I’ll be your friend. But only till next Tuesday. That’s when we move away. Got to. Then as if she forgot I just moved in, she says the neighborhood is getting bad.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Cathy (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Esperanza always seems to be trying to make more friends, but here friendship is a fickle thing, ready to disappear when a family moves away from Mango Street. This is a humorous set-up, as Cathy offers her temporary friendship like a gift she'll soon take away. But Esperanza, always looking for friendship, will take what she can get and wants to befriend Cathy for now. 

Then, as if Esperanza needs another reason to feel "foreign," unwanted, and ashamed, Cathy says her family is moving because "the neighborhood is getting bad." Esperanza registers the pain she feels at hearing Cathy say this, searching for a reason Cathy might have let it slip. She decides it was "as if she forgot" Esperanza's family had just moved in, but before we learn how Esperanza comes to understand Cathy's remark, Cisneros moves to another vignette. This lack of resolution in her storytelling might reflect the impossibility of Esperanza's emotional resolution. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout most of this book, Esperanza presents Mango Street as a world of its own, isolated in many ways from the places around it. But in passages like this one, she reflects on the outside perception of her neighborhood. Like many inner city neighborhoods, Esperanza's barrio is stigmatized as "dangerous" and feared by people coming into it.

To Esperanza, this is almost incomprehensible--they are simply people trying to live their lives--so she decides that the people frightened of the barrio are "stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake." Because there is no basis for their fear, these outsiders must be stupid and lost. This is one way a young person might come to understand a fear they see in others but do not feel in themselves. 

Chapter 15 Quotes

Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies too are few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we take what we can get and make the best of it.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of this vignette, Esperanza declares: "You can never have too much sky." The sky is the embodiment of freedom, both as a natural phenomenon and as a symbol of upward mobility ("the sky's the limit"). Esperanza frequently turns toward nature when humanity lets her down, and dreams of escaping from Mango Street into a natural paradise. 

But, still on Mango Street, "there is too much sadness and not enough sky." The natural beauty of the world is tainted by the everyday difficulty of getting by, and other beautiful things like butterflies and flowers are hard to find amidst all of Esperanza's disappointment at her current life. Yet she finds a certain hope in making "the best of it," and holding onto her dreams of a better future she continues to move forward. 

Chapter 18 Quotes

That one? she said, pointing to a row of ugly three-flats, the ones even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into. Yes, I nodded even though I knew that wasn’t my house and started to cry… In the canteen, which was nothing special, lots of boys and girls watched while I cried and ate my sandwich, the bread already greasy and the rice cold.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Sister Superior (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the more tragic vignettes in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza tries to change some aspect of her daily life by gaining access to the school canteen. When the nuns don't let her stay for lunch at school, and Esperanza tries to explain that her house is too far, the head nun points to some house outside and claims it belongs to Esperanza's family.

Ashamed at the situation and upset, Esperanza doesn't correct the nun's mistake. Esperanza's unease with her family's living situation is central to the book, and here the nun is quietly brutal in her refusal to let Esperanza have a small victory and use the canteen. By the time Esperanza does go to the canteen, allowed to be there just for a day, she finds it unappealing and cries her way through a cold lunch. 

Chapter 34 Quotes

One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Esperanza assures herself and her readers that her achievement of her great goal of having a nice home for herself will not lead to her leaving her past behind. One of the great conflicts of this book is the difficulty of reconciling the desire to find a new home for oneself with the wish to honor the home one came from. Even if Esperanza doesn't see her family's house on Mango Street as her home, she realizes the importance of her family and neighbors, and of her community more broadly. This is why she plans to house "bums" in her attic. Esperanza wants to follow her escapist fantasies but still find a way to make the world a better place and honor the community she came from. Perhaps, then, her home can be a place of comfort not just for her but, occasionally, for the homeless too. 

Chapter 35 Quotes

In the movies there is always one with red red lips who is beautiful and cruel. She is the one who drives the men crazy and laughs them all away. Her power is her own. She will not give it away.

I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Usually Esperanza gets her ideas of how to be one type of woman or another from the girls and women she sees in her neighborhood, but in this case she remembers "the movies" and their trope of the femme fatale. 

This is one model around which Esperanza can shape her strong desire for both sexuality and independence--she wants to be desired by men, but she also doesn't want to end up as another "trapped woman" of Mango Street. Like the trees with their "silent strength," Esperanza here decides to wage a "quiet war" against the expectations placed upon her, weighing her down every day. Although this "quiet war" rather humorously only manifests itself here in her leaving the dinner table without cleaning up, this shows that Esperanza already understands the many ways her independence is restricted or looked down upon as a woman--she knows there is even a way to leave the table "like a man."

Chapter 41 Quotes

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are.

Related Characters: The Three Sisters (speaker), Esperanza Cordero
Related Symbols: The Three Sisters
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

In this strange vignette, wherein Esperanza visits the home of her two friends and their recently deceased baby sister, Rachel and Lucy's three aunts remind us of the fortune teller from earlier in the book. They have a dreamlike presence, coming "with the wind" and "barely noticed" by the people of Mango Street (and perhaps echoing the Three Fates of classical Greek mythology). We might even wonder whether Esperanza dreams this passage or really experiences it. 

Either way, one of the aunts tells Esperanza to come back for her community when she leaves. The mysterious aunts, like a three-headed fortune teller, intuit Esperanza's desire to get far away from Mango Street and encourage her to do so only under the condition that she return for "the others"-- the same people Esperanza thinks she needs to escape. That Esperanza is bound to these people by their mutual residence on Mango Street is one of the main difficulties she faces. But the aunt tells her not to even try to escape Mango Street in an emotional sense. This wisdom seems to stick with Esperanza, who ends up writing all these vignettes as a kind of affirmation of the power her writing has given her--and using this power to figuratively "come back" for the trapped, powerless women of Mango Street.

Chapter 43 Quotes

Not a man’s house… A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed… Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shoes
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Esperanza dreams repeatedly of her future home, this is the most detailed image she conjures up. It won't be a "man's house," where she is forced to stay inside and do chores. A porch will mark her territory, and a pillow will offer her a permanent place to sleep. Other images from earlier in the book recur here: the flowers remind us of the Monkey Garden and the four trees outside her home on Mango Street, and the two shoes remind us of all the other shoes mentioned in her vignettes. In this way, her home will contain all the things that have been important to her throughout these stories; but they'll be hers, under her control, "clean as paper before the poem." The act of dreaming about her home is like writing for Esperanza; both are creative acts that give her a sense of her future and the freedom she can still attain. 

Chapter 44 Quotes

I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free.

One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Esperanza explores one of her primary motivations for writing: self-liberation. By writing about Mango Street, Esperanza gains some distance from it. This is something of a paradox, because we might think that spending time thinking and writing about a place would only bring you more tightly into its grasp. But for Esperanza, language has the power to help her process events and let them go, at least somewhat. 

Still Esperanza dreams of letting Mango (here personified as a woman who is both constricting and liberating) go entirely. The "books and paper" that she wants to fill her very own house will allow her to distance herself from the painful and often shameful past she experienced on Mango Street. And there's an aspect of inevitability to Esperanza's escape: she is "too strong" to be stuck forever in a home that isn't really home to her, and so she no longer feels that desperate desire to escape--she knows it will happen, sooner or later.

They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

In the closing moment of the book, Cisneros reflects through Esperanza's voice on the complexity of leaving one's community to become a writer. Esperanza imagines her friends and neighbors wondering where she went, and fears they will not know she "has gone away to come back." Having always dreamed of getting away, Esperanza is still aware of the way her departure might appear to her community-- as a desertion of the life she comes from. She plans to leave in order to better herself and return stronger to her community (whether literally or figuratively, through writing and memory), but cannot ensure that her neighbors on Mango Street understand this intention. 

The book closes with a sort of dedication from both Cisneros and her protagonist: "For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out." If getting away from Mango Street is always Esperanza's dream, she still cares for the people there; and she hopes that her writing will offer some sort of liberation and affirmation for the people, like her, who feel trapped in a place that isn't exactly home.