The House on Mango Street is a series of vignettes that tell of a Latina girl growing up in a poor Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. The book opens with Esperanza’s family having moved into a rundown house on Mango Street. Esperanza always wanted a house, not just a new apartment every year, but is not happy with the house on Mango Street. It is falling apart and in a bad part of town, and Esperanza constantly hopes for a better house some day, a house of her own. The book is a series of snapshots of Esperanza’s life and the other people that live on Mango Street . There is a lot of poverty, abuse, and unhappiness on the street. Esperanza struggles with typical adolescent issues compounded by her family not having the money to properly feed or clothe her, leaving her feeling ashamed of her skinniness and ugly, old clothes. The book does really not have a plot. The vignettes do not show clear aging or general growth of Esperanza, just snapshots of her and the people of the street from various times in her adolescence. It ends on a hopeful note, with Esperanza promising herself that she will leave Mango Street some day, but will later come back for those who cannot leave.
The House on Mango Street meets the basic definition of multicultural fiction—it is a book written by a Latina author about the Latina experience. The House on Mango Street is about Esperanza and her Hispanic neighbors living in America, and addresses many issues of balancing cultures. There are stories of defining what home is after leaving the country you were born in, of fitting in at a school where the others aren’t like you, and of the different perspectives on the Mango Street neighborhood held by those who are Hispanic and those who are not. There is some description of Hispanic culture, but it serves more of a backdrop for the vignettes than a topic of exploration in itself. Esperanza is an outsider in every sense. She is not at home at her mostly white Catholic school, but also feels out of place on the predominantly Hispanic Mango Street; she feels out of place with girls her age; she is determined to do better and go farther than those in her family. The focus is not as much on cultural lines as on general adolescent confusion (a ‘universal truth,’ as mentioned in the lecture). Most of the harm that is inflicted on characters is done by others of the same culture (at one point the author writes that Mexicans ‘don’t like their women strong,’ which is reflected in the majority of the female characters of the book), and other cultures are not depicted as negative other than not caring for the difficulties of poor Hispanics.
I really did not like this book. There was no plot, no character development, no change; just a series of sad stories followed by sadder stories. Some of the stories are hopeful or just everyday childhood experiences, but the vast majority are full of sadness, abuse, and hopelessness. The writing style annoyed me as well. It was odd in a way that was probably supposed to be poetic, with incomplete phrases connected by commas to form sentences and words left out at random.
I would be cautious in recommending this book because of the amount of abuse in it, but it would probably be interesting to most readers of multicultural fiction. Because of the unusual writing style, atmospheric feeling, and limited plot, it may appeal to readers of poetry. It may also appeal to those looking for a coming of age story.