The House on Mango Street

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Esperanza’s essential goal is to be an autonomous individual who controls her own choices, a desire driven by her observations of the many trapped and powerless people of Mango Street. This desire is physically represented by her dream of a new house in a different place – at first it is a house for her family, but by the story’s end it is a house that she alone owns, where she can write. She also symbolizes her dream of agency by trying to change her name to something that better shows the “real me.”

The House on Mango Street also presents identity and autonomy in terms of culture and gender. The book is about coming of age as a Chicana, and it portrays the experiences of building a cultural identity in the face of suffering and prejudice. In gender terms, Esperanza wants to be loved by men, but she also doesn’t want to become a trapped woman – as most of her married female neighbors have no agency whatsoever. In the end, Esperanza’s goals focus on having a house of her own, mastering writing, and escaping Mango Street, and through these she will be able to achieve her own identity and autonomy.

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Identity and Autonomy 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 Identity and Autonomy.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The House on Mango Street is, as its title suggests, a book about home. Cisneros’ protagonist, Esperanza, is very concerned with her family’s house and the houses her friends and neighbors live in. Esperanza remembers a time when a nun from her school passed by and insulted her family's old flat and she felt ashamed at the conditions her family lived in. 

For Esperanza, a house should be a symbol of safety and autonomy; and, it follows in her logic, a family's identity is closely tied to the home they live in. Esperanza's disappointment at the house on Mango Street fuels her dreams of the home she will own one day, and these reveries will recur throughout the book. Her parents assure her that the house on Mango Street is only a temporary stop for them, but even as a child Esperanza knows "how those things go." She knows they'll be there for a long time, if not forever. 

Domesticity might be the single most important concept that Cisneros explores throughout the book. It frees people in certain ways and traps them in others--we see people enjoying their homes, moving in and out of homes, and trapped inside their homes by various oppressive forces. 


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Chapter 3 Quotes

Someday I will have a best friend of my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Another of Esperanza's great hopes is to have friends who understand her more completely than the other neighborhood children she spends her time with. Here, after reflecting on the separate universes of boys and girls, and then on the apparent impossibility of being friends with her younger sister Nenny, Esperanza turns as she often does to daydreaming. 

Interestingly, Esperanza imagines her best friend as someone who seems to understand her jokes without her "having to explain them." In other words, a best friend wouldn't need Esperanza to use as many words to get her points across. Esperanza's fantasy is of a friendship that is founded not on shared language but on a mutual understanding of one another that would precede language. 

Until she can find a friend like this, Esperanza muses, she is a "red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor." A red balloon would stand out, but it doesn't usually seem like Esperanza wants to "stand out" in a traditional sense. She's also tied to an anchor, unable to fly as she's meant to. So Esperanza's ideal friend would be someone she fits in with but also someone who helps her reach her full potential-- someone who doesn't hold her down as so many others seem to. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

And since Marin’s skirts are shorter and since her eyes are pretty, and since Marin is already older than us in many ways, the boys who do pass by say stupid things like I am in love with those two green apples you call eyes… And Marin just looks at them without blinking and is not afraid.

Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Marin
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Esperanza spends much of her time observing the other people who live on Mango Street and either replicating or resenting their behavior. But it's hard to tell how she feels about Marin, other than mystified by her sexuality and the way boys seem to gravitate toward her. Esperanza's feelings are obviously complex, and she might simultaneously desire what Marin has and feel disturbed by the way boys and men approach her to flirt. This complexity Esperanza reconciles by deciding the boys are saying "stupid things," as if trying to convince herself that she shouldn't want this to happen to her some day. 

The second paragraph of this passage changes tone abruptly, as Esperanza reflects at the time of her writing on what Marin might be doing now. Because Marin is a fictional character described to us by another fictional character, and has no reality apart from her existence in Esperanza's story, this is also the only way the reader is able to imagine her. As a writer, Esperanza (like Cisneros) has the power to decide how her characters end up. And Marin, like so many women of Mango Street, is stuck forever waiting for something to happen, for someone to "change her life." 

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 23 Quotes

That’s nice. That’s very good, she said in her tired voice. You just remember to keep writing, Esperanza. You must keep writing. It will keep you free, and I said yes, but at that time I didn’t know what she meant.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Aunt Lupe (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Feeling guilty about it, Esperanza tells of the time she and her friends imitated a bedridden aunt; this reflection leads her to remember some of the last things her aunt said to her. Strangely, this aunt is one of the only people who speak directly to Esperanza about her writing. As in other vignettes in The House on Mango Street, the wisdom Esperanza might ignore as a kid probably ends up most important to her later in her life and her writing career. This is strongly suggested by Esperanza's confession that "at that time I didn't know what she meant."

The aunt, bedridden for some time, speaks of freedom through creativity, suggesting she's gained insight through her condition. In a way, this offers radical hope for Esperanza, who has also felt stuck for quite some time. But the reader, like the young Esperanza, has to wonder what it means for writing to keep someone free. 

Chapter 24 Quotes

What about a house, I say, because that’s what I came for.

Ah, yes, a home in the heart. I see a home in the heart.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Elenita (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Disappointed by what the fortune teller has told her thus far, Esperanza directly confronts the question most important to her: what about a house? Unfortunately, Elenita will not give Esperanza the reassurance that she wants--but she still offers some even more valuable information.

Throughout the book, arguably, Esperanza is building a "home in the heart," even as she longs more tangibly for a physical house. The "home in the heart" she is constructing as she grows up is her identity, autonomy, and sense of self--something that, if strong enough, does not have to be entirely shaped by external situations and surroundings, but instead provides a sense of both safety and freedom.

Chapter 28 Quotes

Everything is holding its breath inside me. Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to be all new and shiny. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt. Not this way, every evening talking to the trees, leaning out my window, imagining what I can’t see.

A boy held me once so hard, I swear, I felt the grip and weight of his arms, but it was a dream.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Esperanza is full of potential that is waiting to be realized, and this passage offers the most succinct depiction of this potential. She knows she has much more to do in her life, and puts it beautifully here: she is "waiting to explode like Christmas." On Christmas she gets "new and shiny" things, and she wants to achieve her own sort of rebirth as a "bad" girl, sitting with boys and alone no longer--but also in control of her own sexuality and fate. 

Esperanza's desire is to have these things, not simply to dream about them any longer ("imaging what I can't see"). She wants to cross over from the fiction she creates for herself into a real life closer to what she really wants. The desire to be "bad" might be a rebellion against the norms impressed upon her, but it also comes from a place of physical desire as we see when she remembers the dream of a boy holding her so tightly. 

Chapter 29 Quotes

Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep…

When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees… Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker)
Page Number: 74-75
Explanation and Analysis:

Right after her reflection on what she really wants-- to be with a boy and not in her house, looking at trees through her window-- Esperanza returns to thinking about the four trees outside her house. This is one of many vignettes that center nature as a place of refuge from the difficulties that society and other people bring into Esperanza's life. But, at the same time, Esperanza personifies the trees, giving them "hairy toes" and "violent teeth" like the men she so wants to escape. And like some of the women she thinks about, the trees' strength is "secret." 

Ultimately, the trees remind Esperanza that it's possible to hold on simply for the sake of holding on. The trees don't have the burden of feeling "too sad and too skinny," but they do have to grow through concrete. Like Esperanza, they are forced to thrive in an environment that would try to stop them from doing so.

Chapter 31 Quotes

On Tuesdays Rafaela’s husband comes home late because that’s the night he plays dominoes. And then Rafaela, who is still young but getting old from leaning out the window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Rafaela
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Rafaela is one of a few women in The House on Mango Street whose husbands control their behavior and lock them (in Rafaela's case, literally) into an almost entirely domestic existence. Leaning out the window, another common behavior for the women of this book, somehow makes Rafaela older; this might mean that her longing is wearing her out, as she looks out on the world from the house she's stuck inside. 

Her husband's great fear, that she is "too beautiful to look at," betrays either a mistrust of Rafaela (she'll be lured into infidelity) or of other men (they'll take advantage of her). Either way, Rafaela's husband clearly sees her as a possession that must be guarded, and fears that letting his wife have autonomy will result in some sort of catastrophe. And because this sort of controlling relationship is ignored, if not accepted, by other people, Rafaela is trapped inside her home. This reflects the nightmare flip-side of Esperanza's dream of a home for herself. A home can be a place of freedom and self-expression, or a domestic trap as it is for Rafaela and for the fairy-tale figure of Rapunzel, who is also mentioned in this vignette. 

Chapter 32 Quotes

Sally, do you sometimes wish you didn’t have to go home? Do you wish your feet would one day keep walking and take you far away from Mango Street, far away and maybe your feet would stop in front of a house, a nice one with flowers and big windows and steps for you to climb up two by two upstairs to where a room is waiting for you.

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Sally
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Esperanza projects some of her own fantasies onto Sally, a girl whom Esperanza latches onto as a symbol of things she might not see in herself (like beauty, sexuality, or boldness). Esperanza sees the way Sally's demeanor changes drastically when she has to go home from school, and wonders if Sally also wants to get far away from Mango Street. 

When Esperanza imagines her dream homes, there is never anyone else inside, especially not a husband. In her dreams, homes are safe, open, ready to fulfill her own needs. This must be what Sally wants too, Esperanza figures. Perhaps, by telling these stories and imagining what other people want, Esperanza begins to feel less strange and less alone in what she desires. 

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.