The House on Mango Street details the life of 12-year-old Esperanza and is the story of a young girl’s coming of age in a house on Mango Street in a Latino neighborhood located in Chicago. The area in which she lives is run-down and overcrowded, leaving Esperanza with little privacy, and the dream of one day owning her house after leaving Mango Street.
During the first year of the novel, Esperanza begins to mature both physically and emotionally, developing sexual desires and cravings. During this time, she starts to make friends, develops her first crush, endures sexual harassment and uses writing as an outlet to express herself and her frustrations. The novel also brings to light the stories of her neighbors and their lives, providing insight into what the future might hold for Esperanza.
Upon moving to the house, Esperanza develops friendships with two young Chicana girls, Lucy, and Rachel, who live just across the street. The three friends, and Esperanza’s little sister, Nenny, have multiple adventures in their small neighborhood. Amongst these experiences, which include exploring a junk shop, buying a bike, and hearing stories from a young woman named Marin about boys, we begin to see the hardships and influence the area has on these young girls, namely Esperanza.
During this time, we can see that Esperanza is ashamed of her social status, with her family living in poverty, and also with people having difficulty pronouncing her name. She begins writing poems and vignettes to express herself that she only shares with the older women in the neighborhood that she trusts.
The girls are also frequently subjected to sexual harassment in their community, and also in the case where we witness Esperanza’s first sexual encounter, albeit involuntarily, with an older man when she was forcefully kissed during her first summer job at a photo-finishing store. Over the summer, however, Esperanza starts to mature when she encounters puberty. She finds herself dreaming about boys and enjoys letting them watch her dance. This, in combination with the death of her grandfather and her aunt Lupe, brings her more in tune with the adults in her neighborhood, opening her eyes even more to the hardships and struggles they all face, and in turn, that she will as well.
Shortly after the summer, Esperanza begins to develop a new friendship with a girl her age named Sally, who is perceived as experienced sexually, which Esperanza is not entirely comfortable with. Sally appears to have her agenda, which results in a conflict between the two when Sally abandons Esperanza with a group of boys, at which time, she is sexually assaulted. This traumatic experience encourages Esperanza to leave her neighborhood even more, however when she finds herself ready to go; Esperanza’s figures out that she will never be able to move permanently as she’ll have to return frequently to help the women she has left.
At the end of the year, we find that Esperanza has matured significantly, but remains on Mango Street. She still greatly desires to leave the neighborhood but has grown to understand that writing will help her distance herself emotionally from her situation, and could potentially help her escape physically later on.
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