The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

  This is the story of a girl who grows up in the Latino section of Chicago and makes it her goal in life to escape.  Unfortunately, the reader will not escape without having most decent values in life being stripped of their meaningfulness.  It is a book without heroes and with no overcomers.  The narrator gives us a good lesson in living the life of an observer, and does not give up her pacifically to take control of any part of her life.  She is constantly under the influence of her peers and her desire to have different peers.  In fact, no one in the book lives beyond victimization.

Here are some values that are rendered meaningless in this book:

The book is not well written mechanically.  Grammar is uniformly poor:  quotation marks are used only once;  incomplete sentences are common; many sentences begin with conjunctions.  In general the grammar is at about a second grade quality level.  Most importantly, the tone of the book reflects the naive view of about a fifth grader, and remains there throughout the book, even though high school experiences of the main character are described as in the chapter about her getting a job to pay for high school.

If your student is required to read this book, you may wish to balance the negative content with at-home discussion that draws out positive lessons learned. The following set of questions may help you lead your student to a more positive result.

Ask your student to watch for the things Esperanza (the main character) gets from her family that she never recognizes nor labels.

Why does Esperanza want to get off  Mango Street?  Are there any ways to handle these reason's "why" other than escape?  How could escape help?  If she does escape do you think she will come back?  What would make her come back?  If she has reasons to come back, how could they influence her life right now?

Esperanza mentions shame throughout the book.  What things is she ashamed of?  How does your student handle shame?  Of what things is s/he  ashamed?  How does God, according to the Bible, handle our shame?  Do you think that if Esperanza handled shame differently it would influence her life? How?

How does Esperanza define womanhood/manhood?  How do you define womanhood/manhood?  How does the Bible explain womanhood/manhood?  In each of these definitions is womanhood/manhood held in respect or disrespect?

In the book there is a chapter on girls young enough to be jumping rope and making up sing-songs of the wonders of women's hips ("Ö", [donít forget citation]), leaving the impression that this practice play represents the best that these girls think they can grow into.  How did your student's play paint pictures for him/her of the best they could grow into?  How does one outgrow the worst it represents?  How does your relationship with God give you a way to influence your growing into the best and not the worst?

There may be an attempt to call the narrator a "failed hero" rather than a victim.  Have your student list the things of which the narrator takes charge or even attempts to accomplish.  Do you think that dreaming of escape is enough to qualify one to be a hero?  Is it enough even if it should be accomplished? Why?

Outcry in the Barrio by Freddie and Ninfa Garcia

Run Baby Run by Nicki Cruz

The Sword and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson

Are all books which take the reader on a trip to Mexican American ghettos, but donít leave

him/her hopelessly there because they speak of the transforming power of Godís love.

This page last updated on September 7, 1998.

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