“I make a story for my life, for each step . . .”

14 Mar

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Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street is collection of vignettes about the life of Esperanza, a young Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago.  Cisneros blends poetry and prose in her depiction of Esperanza’s young life on Mango Street and vividly portrays the world seen through Esperanza’s eyes.

The early vignettes trace Esperanza’s early days on Mango Street, in a house that is only another temporary home.  The house serves to represent what Mango Street cannot give to Esperanza, and through beautifully clear and unassuming language we see what Esperanza wants.  “I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes” (110).  However, as Cisneros writes, Mango is always near.  It is where Esperanza befriends characters such as Rachel and Lucy, with whom she buys a bike; Meme, who breaks his arms after falling out of a tree; Louie and his cousin Marin, who, while older than Esperanza, begins to teach her about womanhood and serves as a role-model.

Esperanza’s stories illustrate her first understandings of identity, racism, sexism, and neglect.  Much of her understanding is influenced by others who live on Mango Street – Marin, whose family is back in Puerto Rico; Mamacita, whose son saved money to bring her to the United States; and Geraldo, whose “home is in another country. The ones he left behind are far away…” (66).  Esparanza sees that the Vargas family’s mother does not take care of her children, and learns that Alicia “is afraid of nothing except four-legged fur. And fathers” (32). 

As she grows up Esperanza experiences lecherous old men, and gets her first job.  Increasingly her stories focus on the women in her life – who they appear to be and how often men or tradition controls them.  We see how she begins to develop an identity through her observations, which is further shaped by enduring sexual assault in high school and being abandoned by her friend Sally, who she always looked up to for her prowess with boys.

Cisneros shows at once how it feels for one to not want to belong fully to a place and how that place can inevitably become part of one’s identity.  In one of the final vignettes, three old women tell Esperanza that even though she may leave Mango Street someday, she must always come back.  These stories serve as her means to return to Mango Street and to bring us along.

Review for The House of Mango Street

 

Title: The House on Mango Street
Author: Sandra Cisneros
Links to Author’s Page or other sites of interest: http://www.sandracisneros.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pyf89VsNmg
Length:
(# of pages, chapters, and pages in chapters)
44 vignettes, 110 pages
Ideal Audience & Why:
(cultural relevance, maturity, geographic relevance)
Individual vignettes may be adapted well for middle or the whole book for high schoolers. The book also has strong urban and Hispanic themes which may serve as an entry point for students with those interests or experiences.
Genre & Medium: Collection of vignettes
Story Context:
(setting/time period/biographical information)
1960’s-1970’s Northwest Chicago in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood.
Main Characters: Esperanza
Main Elements: Discrimination, poverty, family, adolescence, coming of age
Themes: Recognizing where you came from, surviving adversity, growing up.
What drives this book?
(plot, characters, themes etc.)
The plot is driven by Esperanza, her experiences, and those around her she observes.
Possible Teaching Points:
(about the book or taken from the book)
The life of immigrant and second generation families in America, how to use vignettes to tell a story, magical realism
How would you use it? Why? (Independent, Whole Class, Literature Groups, Read Aloud, Library, Good Books Bin) Whole class to explore the style and themes, or in reading groups or individually if using the book as a part of a greater ethnic American experience unit.

Possible “Permission Slip” Worthy Topics or Topics with Recommend Sensitivity for Particular Students: One vignette pertains to sexual assault, but the issue is not directly addressed and is not graphic.
Significance of the Title: The title is where the character lived as well as the title of the first vignette.
Other Comments/Notes:
Ratings (5 best) Rate each statement below. 5 is strongly agree and 1 is strongly disagree. Include explanations for ratings. (What developmental theory are you using? What critical lens is that decision built on? What details from the book contribute to the rating?):
1 2 3 4 5 Literary merit (please describe): Cisneros’ style blends poetry and prose into masterfully told stories, and provides an excellent example of the vignette.
1 2 3 4 5 The author employed literary devices (i.e. well-written).
1 2 3 4 5 There was a driving plot. Describe the pace: The pace is fast but unclear at times. For example it can be very difficult to tell how time is passing within the overarching story.
1 2 3 4 5 The characters were well-developed.
1 2 3 4 5 The theme(s) made the readers think.
1 2 3 4 5 The book good for read aloud. Describe the narrative voice: Esperanza thinks a way that approaches magical realism. The poetry present and the short chapters make for excellent read alouds.
1 2 3 4 5 Manageable plot/setting/characters other elements. Describe items of note: Again it is difficult to understand the setting in regards to the passage of time.
1 2 3 4 5 Young people would be able to make connections.
1 2 3 4 5 Anyone with invested interest would enjoy reading this.
1 2 3 4 5 The readers identified with the characters and even discovered themselves (again).
1 2 3 4 5 There is both hope and despair. Describe: Esperanza’s life story is full of moments of happiness and goals, but also many moments where she sees or experiences the darker side of humanity.
1 2 3 4 5 The book stimulated imagination.
1 2 3 4 5 We will be thinking about this book tomorrow.
1 2 3 4 5 We learned new knowledge.
1 2 3 4 5 Text accurate reflected teenage life.
  The following subject areas content could be addressed with this book. Check all that apply and type/write in any specifics:
X Social Studies: Certain vignettes could be read as examples of immigrant or second generation life in big cities, examples of race and class discrimination.
  Math:
X Art: Descriptive passages could be made into works of visual art.
  Science:
  Career and Technology Education:
  Healthy Lifestyles:
X English Language Arts: Vignette writing, poetic writing in prose, memoir.
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