While a classic, I’ve never gotten around to reading The House on Mango Street, but my mentor wants to add it to our class reading list and has asked me to teach it. I blew through it in about six hours, and I don’t know why I’ve avoided this book for such a long time. Like many classics, I’d heard the title bandied about in conversation, but never any details about the plot, and my idea of what this books was about (a house in a mango grove), was absolutely nothing like what it held.
The House on Mango Street is a series of short prose poems/stories told by Esperanza, a young Hispanic girl living in the poor Latino area of Chicago in the 60s, who struggles to find her potential while living in a house she hates. Cisneros’ stories are short snippets giving us bright, jewel-like glimpses into the residents of Mango Street and the kinds of lives they live through Esperanza’s eyes. From her neighborhood friends to the kinds of food they eat to the constantly changing residents moving in and out of the area, Cisneros builds us whole worlds in only a few short paragraphs at a time. Her background as a poet is easily seen in the specificity she uses in her language and the way she builds the plot through nothing but snapshot details.
While I feel like I’ve read many immigrant experience stories that sound similar to Cisneros, I wonder if she was one of the first modern writers to approach the immigrant story in this style and structure. There’s a personal connection that one gets from the short snippets that probably wouldn’t have the same impact if this story had been told in a traditional prose style. Esperanza’s emotions, and the emotions of her neighbors are all heightened and feel more accessible and relatable with this kind of narrow focus. Maybe Cisneros has deleted all the written distractions in this style, and so we’re able to see just this small bit with such exquisite clarity that the rest of the story unfolds naturally in the silences in between. Her pieces are so visceral, we can build the connective tissue on our own, and it was both joyful and sad to read Esperanza’s journey through needing to get away to realizing that no matter how much her house on Mango street is not the house of her dreams, it’s still her home.
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