Coming of Age
Through various themes in The House on Mango Street Esperanza reveals herself as both a product of the community in which she lives and one of the only figures courageous enough to transcend her circumstances. Like all adolescents, Esperanza struggles to forge her own self-identity. In many respects, Esperanza’s own keen observations and musings about the women in her neighborhood are her way of processing what will happen to her in the future and what is within her power to change. On the one hand, she is surrounded by adolescent myths and superstitions about sexuality. In the story “Hips,” the adolescent Esperanza contemplates why women have hips: “The bones just one day open. One day you might decide to have kids, and then where are you going to put them?” Esperanza boldly experiments with the trappings of womanhood by wearing high heels in “The Family of Little Feet,” and in “Sally,” she looks enviously to the girl as an image of maturity: “My mother says to wear black so young is dangerous, but I want to buy shoes just like yours.” However, Esperanza’s brushes with sexuality are dangerous and negative in “The First Job” and “Red Clowns,” and she feels betrayed by the way love is portrayed by her friends, the movies, and magazines. After observing characters such as Sally, Minerva, and Rafaela, who, through early and abusive marriages, are trapped in the neighborhood and into identifying themselves through their male connections, Esperanza, in “Beautiful & Cruel,” says, “I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.” Esperanza also forges her identity through the metaphor of the house. Her longing for a house of her own underscores her need for something uplifting and stable with which she can identify. Throughout the book there is a tension between Esperanza’s ties to the barrio and her impressions of another kind of life outside of it. Ultimately, Esperanza’s ability to see beyond her immediate surroundings allows her to transcend her circumstances and immaturity.