The House on Mango Street: 25th Anniversary Edition
What purpose does art serve? What inspires you to practice your craft? These are questions that aspiring artists confront at some point in their lives, and it is affirming to read answers from mature, experienced voices. During my time as an undergraduate, no work of literature has given me more affirmation than Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. Since it was first published in 1984, Cisneros’ novel has been widely taught in schools and translated into more than twenty languages. Among her accolades, Cisneros is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships.
The 25th anniversary edition of her novel The House on Mango Street, prefaced with a personal essay, gives readers an opportunity to get a glimpse of Sandra’s journey as a young writer. We learn about her experience as a graduate student at the Iowa Workshop where she develops her own philosophy about literary art: “She thinks stories are about beauty. Beauty that is there to be admired by anyone, like a herd of clouds grazing overhead. She thinks people who are busy working for a living deserve beautiful little stories, because they don’t have much time and are often tired.” This is exactly what Cisneros’ novel is comprised of–a series of vignettes, little stories that can stand alone as much as they are intertwined.
More than an essay on the craft of writing, Cisneros’ preface considers identity and rites of passage. She details the struggles of moving away from home and choosing between cultural norms: “When she thinks to herself in her father’s language, Spanish, she knows sons and daughters don’t leave their parents’ house until they marry. When she thinks in English, she knows she should’ve been on her own since eighteen.” Cisneros’ journey segues into a modern classic where the transition to adulthood is marked by reconciling the voices within ourselves, taking ownership of the paths we pursue, and following them with all our hopes and fears.
The House on Mango Street is about Esperanza Cordero, a girl who strives to invent herself. From a young age, Esperanza is deeply engaged with language. She inhabits a world where “you can never have too much sky,” and the magic within these words propels her beyond the boundaries of her childhood home in Chicago. While we follow Esperanza’s story, Cisneros weaves in succinct portraits of other people who live on Mango Street. Among these characters are Minerva, a woman who writes poems to cope with abuse, and Marin, a girl who “is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.” We encounter pain and longing from all walks of life, and we learn not to underestimate our strength.
No other book has touched me so deeply as Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. This novel is like an anthem for those who are in the midst of discerning who they want to be, those striving to take ownership of their identity. Whether you are moving out of your parents’ house for the first time and taking a leap of faith to study what you love, working to support your passion, or making amends with the past in order to embrace the future, you will find a community of very relatable characters within these vignettes.
While Cisneros writes of re-inventing the self, she also acknowledges the importance of re-visiting one’s roots. A mature Esperanza writes, “They will not know I have gone away to come back.” As I have come to learn, life is not linear. Although there is a chronological order to events as they occur, there is also a lot of going back in order to move forward. We tackle new experiences, and we return to the places that made us who we are. It is when we come back to these places that we realize how much we’ve grown. Against the backdrop of our past, we are not the same and our roles are changed. The House on Mango Street is the story of a girl who dares to pave her own way, a girl who faces the unfamiliar, and in sharing her dreams and doubts, reveals to us a piece of our humanity—that part of us that yearns to find our niche in the world. – Joanne Mallari
Also available by Cisneros: Caramelo; Woman Hollering Creek: and other Stories; Hairs/Pelitos; My Wicked Wicked Ways; Loose Woman; Vintage Cisneros; Have You Seen Marie? (Illustrated by Ester Hernandez).