A Esperanza Cordero
“In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters,” says Esperanza Cordero. In a child-like voice, Esperanza records impressions of the world around her. Her perceptions range from humorous anecdotes pulled from life in the barrio to more dark references to crime and sexual provocation. Through Esperanza’s eyes, the reader catches short yet vivid glimpses of the other characters, particularly the females in Esperanza’s neighborhood. In part, Esperanza finds her sense of self-identity among these women. With a sense of awe and mystery, for example, she looks to older girls who wear black clothes and makeup. She experiments with womanhood herself in “The Family of Little Feet,” a story in which Esperanza and her friends cavort about the neighborhood in high heel shoes, but are forced to flee when they attract unwanted male attention. Esperanza’s sense of self-identity is also interwoven with her family’s house, which emerges throughout the book as an important metaphor for her circumstances. She longs for her own house, which serves as a symbol of the stability, financial means, and sense of belonging that she lacks in her environment: “a house all my own-Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.” As the stories develop, Esperanza matures, and she turns from looking outward at her world to a more introspective viewpoint that reveals several sides of her character. Esperanza is a courageous girl who recognizes the existence of a bigger world beyond her constraining neighborhood, and who, toward the end of the book, is compelled by her own inner strength to leave the barrio. Nonetheless, Esperanza demonstrates empathy for those around her, particularly those who do not see beyond the confines of their situations: “One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away. Friends and neighbors will say, What happened to that Esperanza? Where did she go with all these books and paper? Why did she march so far away? They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.” In “Bums in the Attic,” Esperanza says, “One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who or where I came from.” The tension between Esperanza’s emotional ties to this community and her desire to transcend it establish a sense of attraction and repulsion that characterize the work.
B Magdalena Cordero
“Nenny” is Esperanza’s younger sister. Esperanza sees her little sister as childish and unable to understand the world as she does: “Nenny is too young to be my friend. She’s just my sister and that was not my fault. You don’t pick your sisters, you just get them and sometimes they come like Nenny.” However, because the two girls have brothers, Esperanza understands that Nenny is her own responsibility to guide and protect. Esperanza and Nenny share common bonds both as sisters and as Chicana females. In the story “Laughter,” a certain neighborhood house reminds both sisters of Mexico, a connection possible only because of their shared experience: “Nenny says: Yes, that’s Mexico all right. That’s what I was thinking exactly.”
C Papa Cordero
Esperanza’s father is portrayed as a man burdened with the obligation of providing for his family. Papa holds up a lottery ticket hopefully as he describes to the family the house they will buy one day. In the story “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark,” Papa reveals his vulnerability to Esperanza, his eldest child, when he learns of his own father’s death and asks her to convey the news to her siblings while he returns to Mexico for the funeral.
D Mama Cordero
Esperanza’s mother is typical of the women in Latin American communities whose life is defined by marriage, family, children, and traditionally female activities. Mama reveals herself as a superstitious figure who tells Esperanza that she was born on an evil day and that she will pray for her. Mama operates as a caretaker and has authority over her household, and she is portrayed as a martyr, sacrificing her own needs for those of her family. “I could’ve been somebody, you know?” Mama proclaims to Esperanza, explaining that she left school because she was ashamed that she didn’t have nice clothes. Mama wishes for her daughters a better life outside the cycle of subjugation that characterizes her own, and she views education as the ticket out of that way of life.
E Carlos Cordero
Carlos is Esperanza’s younger brother. The brothers have little interaction with Esperanza and Nenny outside of the structure of the household.
F Kiki Cordero
Kiki, “with hair like fur,” is Esperanza’s younger brother.
Cathy, “Queen of Cats,” as Esperanza calls her because of her motley collection of felines, is one of Esperanza’s neighborhood playmates. Cathy tells Esperanza that she and her family are leaving because the neighborhood into which Esperanza has just moved is going downhill.
H Juan Ortiz
“Meme” is a neighbor of Esperanza’s who has a large sheepdog. “The dog is big, like a man dressed in a dog suit, and runs the same way its owner does, clumsy and wild and with the limbs flopping all over the place like untied shoes.”
Marin is a Puerto Rican neighbor, an older girl with whom Esperanza and her friends are fascinated. Marin wears makeup, sells Avon, and has a boyfriend in Puerto Rico whom she secretly intends to marry, but meanwhile, she is responsible for the care of her younger cousins.
J Rosa Vargas
In the story “There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do,” Rosa is portrayed as a woman left in the lurch by a husband who abandoned her and their unruly kids. “They are bad those Vargas, and how can they help it with only one mother who is tired all the time from buttoning and bottling and babying, and who cries every day for the man who left without even leaving a dollar for bologna or a note explaining how come.”
“Alicia Who Sees Mice” is a young woman burdened by taking care of her family while attending college in order to escape her way of life in the barrio. She is only afraid of mice, which serve as a metaphor for her poverty.
Lucy is a neighborhood girl whom Esperanza befriends even though her clothes “are crooked and old.” Lucy and her sister Rachel are among the first friends Esperanza makes when she moves onto Mango Street.
Rachel is Lucy’s sister, a sassy girl according to Esperanza, with whom Esperanza and Lucy parade around the neighborhood in high heel shoes in the story “The Family of Little Feet.”
Elenita, “witch woman” who tells fortunes with the help of Christian icons, tarot cards, and other accouterments, tells Esperanza after reading her cards that she sees a “home in the heart,” leaving Esperanza disappointed that a “real house” does not appear in her future.
Ruthie, “the only grown-up we know who likes to play,” is a troubled, childlike woman whose husband left her and was forced to move from her own house in the suburbs back to Mango Street with her mother.
Sire is a young man who leers at Esperanza as she walks down the street, provoking in her inextricable feelings of desire, foreboding, and fear. Esperanza says that “it made your blood freeze to have somebody look at you like that.”
In “No Speak English,” Mamacita is the plump mother of a man across the street, a comic and tragic figure who stays indoors all the time because of her fear of speaking English.
Rafaela stays indoors and observes the world from her windowsill, “because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at.” Rafaela stands as a symbol for the interior world of women on Mango Street, whose lives are circumscribed and bound by the structure of home and family.
Sally wears black clothes, short skirts, nylons, and makeup. Esperanza looks upon her with fascination and wonder, and wants to emulate her, but the dark side of Sally’s life is revealed in her relationship with her abusive father. She trades one type of ensnarement for another by marrying a marshmallow salesman before the eighth grade.
Minerva is a young woman not much older than Esperanza who “already has two kids and a husband who left.”
In the story “The Earl of Tennessee,” this man with a southern accent, a jukebox repairman according to Esperanza, occupies a dark basement apartment and brings home women of ill repute whom Esperanza and her friends naively take to be his wife.
V The Three Sisters
“The Three Sisters” are Rachel and Lucy’s elderly aunts who come to visit when Rachel and Lucy’s baby sister dies. The three ladies recognize Esperanza’s strong-willed nature, and plead with her not to forget the ones she leaves behind on Mango Street when she flees from there one day.
The oldest in a family of girls, Louie and his family rent a basement apartment from Meme’s mother. His cousin Marin lives with the family and helps take care of his younger sisters. Although Louie is really her brother’s friend, Esperanza notices that he “has two cousins and that his t-shirts never stay tucked in his pants.”