The House on Mango Street is a novella by Sandra Cisneros. It is set in Chicago and takes us through one year of Esperanza’s life who is a young twelve year old Chicana (Mexican-American) girl when we first meet her. The story is told through Esperanza’s point of view as she is the narrator. We get a first-hand account of the culture of the Mexican -American people and experience their life through Esperanza as she lives in the poor oppressively patriarchal community of the Hispanic quarter of Chicago.
Esperanza begins her story by telling how she and her family arrive at Mango Street after having moved frequently over the past few years. Their new home in a ramshackle red brick building is nothing to boast of, yet it is better than their previous homes. Esperanza who has always dreamed of living in a house like the ones she sees on TV is disappointed as is the rest of the family but they overcome their disappointment by treating it as a temporary stop-over till they move to their dream house. She lives in this impoverished neighbourhood in Chicago with her parents, two brothers Carlos and Kiki and a younger sister, Nenny.
Esperanza often dreams of a white wooden house with lots of trees in a big yard. She escapes to her world of writing as a means to combat her disappointment and the suffocation she feels in her new surroundings. One after another the vignettes follow letting us glimpse the life that surrounds her as well as giving us a peek into the emotional and mental world of this young girl. She is very perceptive and observes the people and their circumstances around her. She begins by describing her family members and neighbours. Through these descriptions she builds up a picture of the social circumstances surrounding these people and we get to experience a Mexican-American neighbourhood in all its details. We also meet interesting people such as Alicia who is studying at college; Rachel and Lucy, the two friends with whom Esperanza enjoys walking around in high heels; Marin, who babysits her young cousins to help herself financially; Sally who initiates Esperanza into the world of adolescence with its interest in make-up and boys, Mamacita who yearns to go back to her home country; Rafaela who leans out of her window only on Tuesdays to ask the children to buy her papaya juice.
The characters and situations described are innumerable. The focus is mostly on the various levels of difficulties faced by Esperanza herself or by the people that she is describing. Women are shown to be mostly living lives of subjugation being constantly controlled by the men in their lives. Marriage does not seem to be a desirable prospect even though for girls like Sally it is a means to escape the oppression at home.
The sketches continue one after another and can even be read independently of each other. Yet they trace the growth and maturity of Esperanza. In the beginning of the book she is a young girl of twelve who cannot understand fashion or make-up. But as the story progresses we see her entering adolescence and developing physically as well as emotionally. She describes her friendship with Sally, a girl few years older than her who is into heavy make-up, provocative dresses and boys. Esperanza’s coming of age happens in a disturbing incident when ditched by Sally at a carnival, she is sexually attacked by a group of men. Another unpleasant encounter at her first job with an old man who kisses her forcibly, makes her want to run away from Mango Street more and more.
Towards the end Esperanza describes her meeting with the Three Sisters who are also fortune tellers. It is disheartening to know from them that there is no escape for her. At the same time she comes to an understanding that she can never escape Mango Street because it has become a part of her identity. She will carry it with her wherever she goes. The book ends with this realization as well as a promise from Esperanza to herself that even if she leaves she will always return to help the people on Mango Street.