A neighboring family with a pet monkey moves away, and the children of Mango Street take over the abandoned “monkey garden.” It is full of beautiful, exciting plants and animals, and it becomes a magical place for Esperanza and her friends. It soon becomes a dumping ground for old cars and trash, but Esperanza is still intrigued by everything about the place, especially the way things seem to get lost there. The children start a legend that the monkey garden existed before everything else did.
The monkey garden becomes a symbol of the Garden of Eden in the Bible – a magical, perfect place where everything is innocent, but where something happens that causes a loss of innocence. The children’s mythologizing of the garden becomes another form of escape through beauty and dreaming, as they use their poetic imaginations to try and improve their lives.
One day Esperanza, Sally, and some other kids are in the monkey garden. Esperanza wants to play with the younger children, but Sally stays on the curb talking to Tito and some other boys. The boys have stolen her keys, and they decide that Sally has to kiss all of them if she wants them back. Sally agrees and they all go behind an old car.
The “loss of innocence” moment begins as Tito and the other boys begin to play a more adult game in the garden. They see no problem in manipulating Sally for sexual favors, and she allows herself to be manipulated, as she has become accustomed to sex being her primary interaction and currency with men and lost hope for or even the understanding that there could be anything better.
Esperanza is very upset by this, but she can’t explain why. She runs up to the apartment where Tito lives and tells his mother what is going on. Tito’s mother just says “those kids” and says she can’t do anything about it. Esperanza then leaves to protect Sally herself. She grabs three sticks and a brick and faces the boys. Sally and the boys all laugh at Esperanza and tell her to go home.
Esperanza is upset at her own loss of innocence, but also how the women of Mango Street turn a blind eye to male oppression. The boys and men are able to act as they do because the women don’t help each other, and when Esperanza does try to help, and puts herself in danger, Sally shames her.
Esperanza runs away, ashamed, and hides under a tree in another part of the garden. She wishes she could melt away, and she tries to will her heart to stop beating. When Esperanza finally gets up again her own feet and shoes look foreign to her, and the monkey garden seems foreign as well.
The garden of beauty and safety has become unfamiliar to Esperanza, just as her own shoes (symbols of her sexuality) have. She feels confused and afraid and no longer knows where she belongs, as a child or a woman.