The House on Mango Street! Wow. This book has so many themes and major ideas that it discusses in such a short format. Every page offers so much insight and such profoundness that I was blown away. One theme in particular that kept reoccuring was that of sexual assault and the subordination of women. This book contains a ton of uncomfortable topics, however with themes like sexism, it puts them into easily digestible concepts that read like a children’s story book.
In the book, there are characters that have multiple unwanted sexual encounters; Esperanza and Sally. Through Esperanza’s three experiences, she uncovers that sexual aggression is all too common for a young girl of her age. In “Chanclas,” Esperanza dances at a wedding, and is creepily stalked by a “boy who is a man [watching her] dance.” He is claimed to be her “cousin by first communion,” but through the progression of the night, he seems to prey on Esperanza the entire night; violating her with his eyes. This reveals that even though Esperanza thought she knew and trusted an almost family member, anyone has the potential to be a sexual aggressor. “The First Job” was one of the first chapters I’ve read THIS YEAR where I’ve had to put the book down and pause. As Esperanza gets her first job and realizes she doesn’t really fit in, she “befriends” an Oriental man who talks to her during her lunch breaks. They get along, but then claiming it is his birthday, asks for a birthday kiss and “grabs [her] face with both hands and kisses [her] hard on the mouth and doesn’t let go.” Utterly disgusting. An old man, seemingly mild and friendly, becomes a monster, a predator, in the blink of an eye. With this scene, we see Esperanza get used for a man’s pleasure yet again. Also, the book carries a message of not letting your guard down and not wholeheartedly trusting people; fearing they have a secret agenda or desire. Finally, in “Red Clowns,” Esperanza experiences physical sexual assault by an unknown man who repeatedly says, “I love you, Spanish girl.” Esperanza begs him to stop, but he continues to have his way with her. A soul-wrenching scene that I am lost for words to even describe. Through the progression of the book, sexual assault is brought to light while also an idea of apprehensiveness about unknown men is constantly reinforced; begging readers to take precautions and not endure the same trauma she has in the past.
The other character, Sally, is the character of choice for Cisneros to display the devastating consequences of both parental assault and being taken advantage of. Sally, whose traumas stem from an abusive father, is often talked about by the boys; thinking she is the most beautiful girl they have ever laid eyes on. Sally’s one wish is “to love and to love and to love,” but as she cannot get that from her father, becomes eye candy for boys around the school, frequently hooking up with them. When Sally and some boys are fooling around in the back of a pickup truck, Sally told Esperanza to “go home” and give her and the boys time alone. Such a sad life Sally is living, obtaining the attention she needs to survive by having casual sex with boys who only care for her looks all because of the mental and physical abuse brought onto her by her neglectful father.
This book, deceptively quaint and colorful, really made me feel strong emotions (it almost made me tear up). From themes of identity, mental illness, tradition, language, and even sexual assault, this book tackles it all. I’m eager to discuss this with all of you tomorrow; attempting to scratch the surface of the book’s profound messages.