Written by Milicia Tomanic


Identity and poverty in "the house on mango street"

    “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros explores the themes of individual identity and poverty. It reveals conflicts directly related to the feeling of alienation and degradation associated with poverty. The narrator of the story is a young girl, psychologically complex, who shows how poverty affects her view of life, her view of the future and her place in society.

     The story starts without very high expectations. The narrator struggles to find her place in the neighborhood. She is constantly moving from one poor district to another: “The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don’t have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn’t a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it’s not the house we’d thought we’d get” (p.249). From this point, the narrator expresses her disappointment because her parents promised that one day they would move into a real house. The house represents the insecurity, which is also in the girl herself. Her character internalizes negative images and she sees herself as a lower part in society.

     The narrator ironically contrasts her and her parents’ dreams with cruel reality. She grows up with disappointment: “Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed”(p.249). What the narrator sees is contrary to everything her parents said. Her house is tiny, crumbling without a yard where everybody has to share a bedroom. The description of this broken down house forces the narrator to reflect upon the shame of her life of poverty.

     The girl’s sense of identity is very insecure; her low self-esteem grows throughout her own experience shared with her houses, family, dreams, disappointments and interference with neighborhood. The narrator’s need for a home is very much related to her economic situation. There is a fear of failing based on the life she dreamed off as long as the hopes and desire are linked of how much money we have.

     She was being asked to identify her house when a nun from her school passed by and interrupted her play. She felt embarrassed by pointing to the apartment over a laundromat with peeling paint and barred windows. “You live there?”….”The way she said it made me feel like nothing” (p.250).  This internalizes her shame of the house and her dissatisfaction raises to the sadness. Her parents were constantly giving the children a hope but at the end she realized that she cannot escape reality: “I knew that I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to.  But this isn’t. The house on Mango Street isn’t. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those thing go” (p.250). Despite her low self-esteem, the poverty doesn’t prevent her from creating dreams and desire. The central hope is to have a large, real, comfortable house, one that she is not ashamed of, the house in which she can have complete control of her destiny.

    Even if her parents were giving her hope, she matures through the story by realizing that she cannot forget who she is as long as she has to live in poverty and be insecure in her own identity.

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