The House on Mango Street

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Language and Names Theme Analysis

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Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
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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.
Language and Names Theme Icon

One of the most important themes of The House on Mango Street is the power of words. Esperanza first learns that the lack of language (especially English) means powerlessness, as with Mamacita, who is trapped in her apartment by her ignorance and fear of English. This leads to Esperanza understanding the power of controlling language, which first comes through the idea of names. Esperanza has only one name while most characters have several – an English and Spanish name, or nicknames – and she tries to change her name to empower herself and show the “real me.”

Esperanza then expands from names to language itself, and she realizes that mastery over words brings a kind of freedom. She can translate her bad experiences into beautiful language (as she starts to write poetry), which both makes them less bad and helps her process them. Esperanza ultimately hopes to find physical freedom through her writing, as she vows to keep studying and escape Mango Street, yet part of her final promise to return for those “left behind” involves writing about their experiences and memorializing their suffering.

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Language and Names 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 Language and Names.
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. 


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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.

Chapter 13 Quotes

No wonder everybody gave up. Just stopped looking out when little Efren chipped his buck tooth on a parking meter and didn’t even stop Refugia from getting her head stuck between two slats in the back gate and nobody looked up not once the day Angel Vargas learned to fly and dropped from the sky like a sugar donut, just like a falling star, and exploded down to earth without even an “Oh.”

Related Characters: Esperanza Cordero (speaker), Angel Vargas, Rosa Vargas
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Like the gap Esperanza perceives between boys and girls on Mango Street, the gap between parents and children is often enormous. In a darkly comical way, Esperanza describes the way the Vargas children become so unruly that "everybody gave up" trying to keep them from getting themselves into trouble. This implies that people in the neighborhood usually look after one another's children, but that the Vargas family (who had too many children) became too much to handle. 

This passage also shows Esperanza using language to distance herself somewhat from what happens around her. A very disturbing event, Angel Vargas' failed flight, is sublimated through the fantastic images of the "sugar donut" and the "falling star." The reader is left to wonder what other things may have happened to this unfortunate family, whose mother is too busy and has too many children. 

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 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 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 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.