Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Believe Care Invest: The House on Mango Street

  • Pre-teen Esperanza moves with her family to a modest house on Mango Street and looks for friends.
Why Esperanza might be hard to identify with: It’s an unusual format. The short book essentially consists of 150 one-page short stories, with only a small amount of interconnectivity. Obviously, scenes don’t go very far in depth and not a lot of momentum builds. There’s very little dialogue.

  • She talks about, “windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath.” Always good to personify things
  • We always like vivid but unexpected smells: “Mama’s hair that smells like bread.”
  • We have all, in our odder moments, experienced bits of synesthesia. I remember as a child thinking “red and green make brown because red is 5 and green is 3 and brown is 8”, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world. Giving your hero a bit of synesthesia makes them feel oddly real: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.”
  • Odd sensory information: “At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth.”
  • Let your characters relabel themselves: “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.”
  • Unlike some Hispanic authors, Cisneros doesn’t sprinkle in much Spanish, but she does have culturally unique syntax: “Two girls raggedy as rats live across the street.” Different characters have different culturally unique syntax. One says, “but me I’m Texas.
  • Not a lot of dialogue in the book, but what we do get has lots of personality: “People on the bus wave. A very fat lady crossing the street says, You sure got quite a load there. Rachel shouts, You got quite a load there too. She is very sassy.”
  • Vivid sound description: “Our laughter for example. Not the shy ice cream bells’ giggle of Rachel and Lucy’s family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking.”
  • Unique similes: “It’s like all of a sudden he let go a million moths all over the dusty furniture and swan-neck shadows and in our bones.”
  • There are lots of chances to tie the book in to specific cultures, but there are also details like this not specific to their culture, implying that there are some aspects of culture that cross over, just because they’re great songs. “She can’t come out—gotta baby-sit with Louie’s sisters—but she stands in the doorway a lot, all the time singing, clicking her fingers, the same song: And we always love song lyrics. Apples, peaches, pumpkin pah-ay. You’re in love and so am ah-ay”
  • They had to move hastily because the pipes burst in their old home and their landlord refused to fix them. Decisions made under pressure are always good ways to launch stories.
  • The opening humiliation of the story is often the moment when a hero first realizes how others see them: “You live there? There. I had to look to where she pointed—the third floor, the paint peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn’t fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded.”
  • She arrives in her new neighborhood and has to go through the humiliating ritual of asking kids to be her friend. One replies, “You want a friend, she says. Okay, I’ll be your friend. But only till next Tuesday. That’s when we move away. Got to. Then as if she forgot I just moved in, she says the neighborhood is getting bad.”
  • This book is about Esperanza getting wised up to the true nature of the world: “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go.”
  • As with all semi-autobiographical novels, we invest primarily because of the fact of this book, which, because we’re reading it, proves that the hero broke free and made her place in the world (though the author and heroine have different names). All of the Believe examples above show both Sandra and Esperanza’s exquisitely perceptive eyes, and we like good eyes.

No comments: