From the start of the book Esperanza realizes that men and women live in “separate worlds,” and that women are nearly powerless in her society. There is a constant conflict between being a sexual being and keeping one’s freedom, as most of the book’s female characters are trapped both by abusive husbands and needy children. Esperanza comes to recognize this dichotomy as she is caught between her own budding sexuality and her desire for freedom.
To try and reconcile the contradiction, Esperanza decides to become “beautiful and cruel” like a femme fatale of the movies – having both sexuality and autonomy – but she soon finds this impossible in the culture of Mango Street, as Sally is exploited by boys and Esperanza herself is assaulted and raped. Indeed, most of the men in the book are exploitative and violent, and the women rarely help each other, as Tito’s mother ignores Sally’s plight and Sally abandons Esperanza first in the Monkey Garden and then at the carnival. At the end of the book, when Esperanza imagines returning for “the ones left behind,” she is thinking of the powerless women of Mango Street.
Gender and Sexuality ThemeTracker
Gender and Sexuality Quotes in The House on Mango Street
The boys and the girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours.
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.
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.
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.”
They are dangerous, he says. You girls too young to be wearing shoes like that. Take them shoes off before I call the cops, but we just run.
Then he asked if I knew what day it was, and when I said I didn’t, he said it was his birthday and would I please give him a birthday kiss. I thought I would because he was so old and just as I was about to put my lips on his cheek, he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn’t let go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.