Life of Courage
Can you imagine spending your entire childhood wanting to escape the life you were born into? A life filled with restrictions set by family, and most of all society.
Only to one day realize that it’s inescapable, no matter where you go, no matter how far away you are, it will follow you like a loyal dog that you wished wasn’t so loyal. Esperanza, a character in the novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros came to this sad and unfortunate realization. Set in Chicago 1960s, a time when women were expected to stay home, get married, and provide children. Women were treated as if they were possessions to be had, not a living beings. Few women were even given a choice, most were forced into marriage or married to escape poverty. Esperanza was determined to evade a life led by a man, she was determined to live her life on her own terms, a feat a rare few dared to take on.
In Sandra Cisneros’ coming of age novel The House on Mango Street, the main character Esperanza Cordero has unbreakable courage and determination to escape her neighborhood because she feels confined by her family, poverty, and gender roles. Esperanza wants to break free from the socioeconomic status of her family. Although she loves her family she often wishes she could be someone else. In the vignette, “My Name,” Esperanza tells us, “My great grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry” (10).
She tells the reader about her great grandmother, who had a similar personality to Esperanza, but was forced into the life Esperanza is intent on fleeing. Even though Esperanza pities her life, she still has some admiration toward her great-grandmother, who had the same spirited, free-willed personality. In the same vignette, Esperanza goes on to say, “Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I do not want to inherit her place by the window” (11). Her great grandmother was forced to marry someone she didn’t know or love, forced into a miserable life looking out the window wondering what could’ve been if she hadn’t married.
Esperanza is insistent on not inheriting her great grandmother’s misery, she doesn’t want to look back on her life and wonder all the things she could’ve done, she wants to do them. Esperanza dreams of getting away from poverty, of living in a real home. For example in the vignette entitled “The House on Mango Street,” the narrator says, “[Mama and Papa] always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn’t have to move each year” (4). Esperanza gets tired of moving all the time, and wants a house of her own. This is the first time we begin to understand Esperanza’s dream house, a real house that escapes the essence of poverty and despair.
In the same vignette, a nun spoke to Esperanza saying, “You live there? The way she said made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there” (5). Embarrassed by places she has lived in the past, she wants to be able to point at her house with pride. She wants to escape the poverty that encompasses her family.
Esperanza wants to break free of the traditional gender role, and assimilate into the freedom of American culture. In the vignette “Boys and Girls,” Esperanza explains, “Boys and girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours” (8). Esperanza conveys to the reader that the boys are often oblivious to what privilege they had compared to the girls, the privilege of choice. She is committed to creating the same privilege of freedom for herself, and not giving in to other means of escaping her neighborhood, namely marriage. In the vignette, “Beautiful and Cruel,” Esperanza says, “I have begun my own quiet war.
Simple. Sure. I am the one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate” (89). She is talking about her war against the gender role that society has unfairly placed on her. Esperanza is bent on escaping Mango Street on her own, without the unwanted help of a man.
In the bildungsroman The House on Mango Street, the main character Esperanza, holds within herself the bravery to set out with the self-fulfilling prophecy of fleeing her neighborhood, and in doing so fleeing the restrictions placed on her by her family, poverty, and gender. Esperanza’s experience still relates to us today in many ways, of course nowadays women have undeniable equal rights as men. Yet, some women still decide to marry young, the difference being that now is that it’s no longer forced. The women with personalities like Esperanza have the freedom to do whatever they want with their lives, their imagination is their only limit. It’s an important novel because it catalogs the life of a teenager, nonetheless a teenager in a time of extreme poverty and serious gender roles put there by society. Those of us who were once unaware and oblivious to what our ancestors had gone through, are now disenchanted with what they thought was a time of fun.
They are hit with the cold, hard truth and forced to realize how fortunate they are to have the freedoms they have today. This novel opens our eyes to see what was, and opens the door to what could be, what would be.