Function/S of Space in Sandra Cisneros’ the House on Mango Street

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Function/s of Space in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street Space occupies a central role in Sandra Cisneros’ coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street. Using the example of the house shows this very plainly. This can be seen at the very beginning of the book, namely the title. Although it is a female Bildungsroman, the novel is not named after its protagonist Esperanza Cordero, but her residence. It shows that Cisneros attached much importance to the house on Mango Street and the reader also learns that it is of central significance for the development of the young girl.
On Mango Street, she develops not only physically, but also in terms of her character and her own identity. That is why I will concentrate on the function of the house rather than on other different settings in the novel. Usually, the house is a symbol for warmth and shelter. It represents the place of the family and where one belongs to. But the first sentence of the initial vignette shows, that this does not apply to the house on Mango Street. Esperanza’s family has been constantly on the move and they lived in several apartments in different cities.
The feeling of being rooted therefore never existed, just as little as the feeling of comfort. For Esperanza, the house on Mango Street does not symbolize shelter, but shame. In the first vignette Esperanza depicts the family’s house in a very negative way, run down and with cramped confines. It is neither “[…] the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket […]”, nor “[…] the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed. ” (Cisneros 4). The house on Mango Street is at last their own, but not the one Esperanza and her family have longed for.

It symbolizes “[t]he conflict between the promised land and the harsh reality” (Valdes “Canadian Review” 57). Especially for Esperanza, who is in quest of her own identity, reality and hope (Spanish: esperanza) diverge here, which means that Esperanza has not found her personal reality yet. She wishes to have “[a] real house. One I could point to. ” (Cisneros 5). This desire shows that the house also symbolizes the “American Dream” of having a comfortable home of one’s own, something the people of Esperanza’s community will probably never attain.
Esperanza experiences that instead, they are often confronted with the fact that the house also functions as a symbol of female restriction. This proves the given traditional role of a Chicana, whose business concentrates on the household and on being wife and mother. In the novel, female restriction is also depicted in a more extreme way: Several women like Marin and Rafaela are restricted physically because they are locked indoors by their husbands. Esperanza clearly comes out against such a male-dominated home.
Although she is not sure who she is and still searches for her own identity, she clearly knows what she wants: a house all on her own, “Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. ” (Cisneros 108). According to that, having her own house stands for her longing for a self-determined space as an independent woman, in which she can be free to be herself, unconfined by either a husband or a father and without any social expectations. There is something, Esperanza didn’t realize yet: the fact “[…] that the house she seeks is, in reality, her person. (Valdes “Canadian Review” 58). Thus, the house functions as a metaphor for Esperanza’s identity formation. Apart from its importance for self-identification, the image of the house functions as a synecdoche: it is part of the community, a place of one’s own amidst the whole community and barrio. By interacting with the community, meaning communication and observation, Esperanza learns that she can only define herself through her relationship to the other people of her community.
She orientates herself by some positive role models like Aunt Lupe or Minerva, but she also distances herself from Sally or the “women sitting by the window” like her great-grandmother or Mamacita. Nevertheless, Esperanza learns through their experience. This shows Esperanza’s ability to distinguish between the different role models. She recognizes that she does not want to be a copy of somebody and this is why she sees others just as partial role models. The social interaction with the community actually is of utter importance for Esperanza’s identity formation.
The fact that she defines herself through people she lives with shows the close interaction between community and Individual. The house stands for the community because it is part of it and thus functions as a synecdoche: pars pro toto - the term “community” is replaced by a narrower one, thus the “house”. This also works vice versa, totum pro parte means here that the house is used to represent the community. For Esperanza, the relationship between individual and community is a mutual one. She recognizes that there is a lot she learned and experienced while living in the house on Mango Street and in the ommunity. At the end of the novel, both what the three sisters and Alicia say to her “[…] induce Esperanza to acknowledge her indebtedness to the community and her role as mediator and negotiator between worlds. ” (Rukwied 63). So she decides to give something back, to help others with her experience. In the vignette “Bums in the Attic” she states: One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house. Cisneros 87) Esperanza shows great sympathy for other people who are, by some means or other, lost like she was when wondering who she is. She describes this state with the word “homeless” (Cisneros 87). Having no home means having no house or apartment. And as I argued before, the house is the central metaphor for self-identification. In the end, Esperanza finally finds her voice by beginning with writing. She now has a clear vision of how her promised house should be: “Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (Cisneros 108). This is another way of contributing something to the community: she writes about it. As I argued, the house is of central importance in The House on Mango Street. Esperenza first refuses to accept that she belongs to Mango Street and thus to the whole community. But in the end she recognizes that it was there her identity fully developed because our environment always shapes our identity. I focused on the function of the house, but there are further reasons for the importance of space in general.
In my opinion, one of them is “highly visible” indeed: The fact that Sandra Cisneros left a lot of space on the pages of the novel. In chapter 7 for example, there is both recto and verso in a large part unprinted. Works Cited List: Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. McCracken, Ellen. "The House on Mango Street: Community-oriented Introspection and the Demystification of Patriarchal Violence. " In: Horno-Delgado, Asuncion et al (eds). Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. 7-71. Rukwied, Annette L. The search for identity in two Chicana novels : Sandra Cisneros' The house on Mango Street & Ana Castillo's the mixquiahuala letters. Stuttgart: Universitat, Magisterarbeit, 1998. Valdes, Maria Elena de: “In Search of Identity in Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street”, Canadian Review of American Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1, Fall 1992. 55-69. Valdes, Maria Elena de. "The Critical Reception of Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. " Gender, Self, and Society. Ed. Renate von Bardeleben. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1993. 287-300. (7. 01. 2008) (7. 01. 2008)

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