The House on Mango Street
Sandra Cisneros (Adult Fiction)
The house on Mango Street wasn’t what Papa had talked about when he held up a lottery ticket or what Mama had dreamed up for our bedtime stories. Instead, it was small and red with crumbling bricks and no front yard. Even a nun, who was passing by the house one day, couldn’t believe that it was actually the home of little Esperanza. It was at that moment that Esperanza knew that she had to have a house. One with stairs on the inside and a front yard with grass. One that was filled with quiet. Quiet like snow. A home all her own.
Published in 1984, Cisneros’s celebrated The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age story about 12-year-old Esperanza Cordero, a Chicana girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. Comprising of 44 vignettes and being just a squeak above a novelette, Cisneros introduces us to several memorable characters who are the color, texture, and fabric that make up Mango Street. We meet the rotten Vargas kids, Alicia who studies to avoid a life in a factory or behind a rolling pin, Darius the philosopher, Sally with the Cleopatra eyes, and Geraldo who was so much more than a shiny shirt and green pants. But as is the nature of vignettes, our knowledge and connection with these and other characters are superficial and barely scratch the surface. Like a movie trailer, we get the highlights, but not the heart.
In her introduction—which I loved and wished that the rest of the book had been this immersive and rooted—Cisneros wrote that she wanted to write a book “that can be opened at any page and will still make sense to the reader who doesn’t know what came before or what comes after.” I think that was the biggest barrier for me to overcome. While accomplishing her goal, Cisneros sacrificed a connectedness that would have given readers more than just a superficial glance at characters who did have a before and, more importantly, an after. I wanted to know Sally’s after, who married to be free yet ultimately found herself in a different prison. I wanted to understand Geraldo’s before in hopes that someone would miss this charismatic young man who loved to dance.
Although I miss the richness of the novel that could have been, I can’t deny the beautiful and artful way Cisneros evokes raw emotion and vivid images with just a few well-placed words. She describes a family who enters a garden area between her building and a brick wall as “a family who speak like guitars”, equates the entry into womanhood by describing the sudden development of hips as “One day you wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where?”, and recalls meeting her three aunts as “one with laughter like tin and one with eyes of a cat and one with hands like porcelain.”
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, a Danish businessman and the former CEO of the Lego Group, said, “Any creative people are finding that creativity doesn’t grow in abundance, it grows from scarcity.” Now, he was talking about Legos and how having more doesn’t necessarily equate to more creativity, but it does show how a novella, not quite 18,000 words, is beautiful and creative because of its scarcity rather than in spite of it.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
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