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.
Foreigness and Society ThemeTracker
Foreigness and Society Quotes in The House on Mango Street
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.