Novel Summary

The House on Mango Street is a novel dealing with the struggles of self-definition, power of language, cultural identity, women responsibilities and sexuality.  It is told from the perspective of Esperanza, a twelve-year-old Mexican American girl growing up in Chicago.  Through a series of chapters, which all have very different themes, we learn as readers, about the life of Esperanza along with her family and friends.   

The novel starts off with Esperanza discussing the new house that her parents had just bought on Mango Street.  Although this is the first house that her parents have ever bought on her own, Esperanza is not impressed.  The house is small and very old, placed in the middle of a crowded Latino community.  It is nothing that she imagined and throughout the rest of the novel, she comments repeatedly on how she will one day leave Mango Street and have a house all on her own.  

Throughout the novel, Esperanza discusses different people in her life, such as her many different neighbors and friends, different places and different events that have happened, such as sexual encounters. These aspects of her life will help her to mature greatly as she learns a great deal about who she is as an individual.  In the end, Esperanza’s desire to leave Mango Street has grown significantly.  She discovers that through her writing she is able to distance herself from the situation she finds herself in until she is able to move away for good.


Sandra Cisneros was born on December 20th, 1954 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the third child and the only daughter in a family of seven children. Her father, Alfredo Cisneros worked as an upholsterer to support his family, while her mother, Elvira Cordero Anguiano, was a homemaker. Cisneros grew up feeling lonely and isolated at times due to her status as the only female child in the family. She found a supportive ally in her mother, who encouraged her to read and be socially conscious.

Cisneros attended the University of Loyola in Chicago, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1976. She continued her education, receiving a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa in 1978. It was during a writing workshop at the University of Iowa that Cisneros realized the difference between her culture as a Mexican woman and the culture of the rest of her White classmates. From that point, she decided to use her culture and childhood as inspiration for her stories and books.

Besides working on her writing, Cisneros also worked as a teacher and counselor to high-school dropouts, as an artist in the schools teaching creative writing, as a college recruiter, as an arts administrator, and as a visiting writer at a number of universities around the country.

Her books include a chapbook of poetry, Bad Boys (1980); two full-length poetry books, My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Woman(1994); a collection of stories, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991); a children's book, Hairs/Pelitos (1994); and two novels, The House on Mango Street (1984) and Caramelo (2002). Also, a compilation of selections from her works, entitled Vintage Cisneros, was published in 2004.

Cisneros has received many awards for her writing, including the American Book Award by the Before Columbus Foundation in 1985, PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction of l99l, the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Lannan Foundation Literary Award, and many others. She has also awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1995.

Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, including Spanish, Galician, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, and, most recently, into Greek, Thai, and Serbo-Croatian.

Cisneros is the president and founder of the Macondo Foundation, an association of socially engaged writers working to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor their communities.

She lives in a house painted Mexican-pink with “many creatures little and large” in San Antonio, Texas. 


What's the story?

Reviewed by Kate Pavao

In lyrical language, a young girl discusses growing up in a poor, Latino neighborhood. She tells her story in short vignettes, describing her friends, her family, her neighbors, and her dream to have a "house all my own... Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem."

Esperanza Cordero writes about her house on Mango Street with "windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath;" her mother, who quit school, and pushes her to continue her education; and her friend Sally, who gets married too young to escape her house, and ends up a virtual prisoner to her husband.

In these short, poetic installments, Cisneros captures the sadness and desperation Esperanza sees among her neighbors, especially the women, the confusion that comes with growing up -- and the beauty in small moments, like riding a bike with friends.

Readers may not be able to relate exactly to Esparanza's world -- which includes one room for the whole family to sleep in, men who prey on young girls, and husbands and fathers who mistreat their children -- but they will understand her quest for a better life, and the importance of her promise to come back for "the ones I left behind."

Historical Links

All About Mexico

This website provides a lot of information regarding the Mexican Culture.  It discusses different aspects of the country such as the people, languages, religion, holidays and much more.  It also provides pictures taken from traditional events and activities that take place within the Mexican culture.  This website would be very beneficial while teaching The House on Mango Street because it would provide students with a better understanding of where Esperanza came from and the culture of her family. 
Mexican American History

This website contains information about Mexican American history.  It starts from the Spanish American heritage all the way to the present day Mexican American people living in the United States.  It talks about the struggles that many Mexican Americans faced to get here.  It also talks about the trouble many were faced with once they got here, with the hard migrant jobs they were forced to take to survive and the racism there were confronted with at the same time.  This website would be a great resource while teaching The House on Mango Street because it discusses issues that Esperanza and her family could have faced while living in the United States.  This website helps to make Esperanza’s troubles seem more real.  

Historical Figures

This website contains the many historical figures that impacted the Mexican culture throughout history.  It provides nine links to nine different figures, which contains pictures and information regarding who the person is and why they are significant in this culture.  It gives explanations to their many achievements and accomplishments through their lifetime.  This website would be helpful for students to get to know the people that someone like Esperanza and her family would look up to.  Each of these figures would represent something personal to the Cordero family.