1. Literary scholar C. Hugh Holman
defines a Bildungsroman as "a novel that deals with the development of a
young person as he grows up" (Holman, 63). In what ways is The House on
Mango Street a Bildungsroman? Cite specific instances in the text to
support your argument.
The novel traces Esperanza's
development from a girl who has no firm sense of identity to a young woman with
a clear sense of purpose; from a naï¿½ve child to a developing woman who has been
prematurely and violently initiated into adult sexuality; from a person who
cannot articulate her identity to a vocal storyteller who can, through powerful
narrative, articulate not only her own self but the "self" of her Mango Street
community. Students' essays should be able to cite any number of specific
instances where readers witness Esperanza coming of age. A few possible
examples would include: her sense of guilt at Aunt Lupe's death; her dance with
Uncle Nacho at the baptismal celebration; or Sally's rejection of her in the Monkey Garden.
2. Which characters serve as mentor figures to Esperanza as
she struggles to establish her own identity?
Possible responses students could discuss in their essays
include Marin, Alicia, Aunt Lupe, and Elenita as "positive" mentors; and
Mamacita, Rafaela, and even Esperanza's great-grandmother as "negative"
mentors. In other words, characters in the first category represent the same
hopes to which Esperanza aspires-Alicia, for example, is unafraid of the adult
world of sexuality; Aunt Lupe encourages Esperanza to keep writing. Characters
in the second category-Rafaela, trapped in her own "home" (note the irony,
given the symbolic freight that word and concept carry in this book)-represent
the fate Esperanza is determined to avoid, and show her the mistakes they made
so that she can not make them herself. Some characters may even serve as both
positive and negative mentors; for instance, Ruthie, who is trapped in an
abusive relationship but who also speaks to Esperanza of narrative's freeing
3. What do the male characters of Cisneros' novel represent?
Students' essays should, by focusing on a handful of male
characters, be able to clearly articulate the dominant "gender politics" of The
House on Mango Street. While Meme Ortiz is a positive male
character-indeed, he is virtually Esperanza's male counterpart for his
accomplishment of renaming himself-and while Papa emerges as a sensitive (if
somewhat weak and to be pitied, even given his grief) character, most of the
men of Mango Street-Earl, Minerva's husband, Sally's father, the boy who
(presumably) rapes Esperanza in "Red Clowns"-are motivated by lust and the need
to dominate the women in their lives. Men in this novel seem to represent a
harsh patriarchy, from which Esperanza is able to escape by learning the power
of storytelling, a power traditionally associated in many cultures with women.
4. What purposes do the many instances of intertextuality in
the novel play?
Recall a standard definition of intertextuality: "Relating to or deriving
meaning from the interdependent ways in which texts stand in relation to each
other" (American Heritage Dictionary). Students' essays should focus on
the appearance of The Waterbabies in "Born Bad" and of "The Walrus and
the Carpenter" in "Edna's Ruthie." The possible intertextual purposes that
these texts play are discussed at some length in the Analysis sections for
these vignettes. Alternatively, students might explore in a more general way
the intertextual inversions of fairy tale motifs in "The Family of Little Feet"
(the Cinderella motif) and "Rafaela." (the Rapunzel motif). In traditional
fairy tales, these motifs present princesses who find true love and live
happily ever after as if by magic. On Mango Street, however, slippers that
perfectly fit young girls' feet attract unwanted, lecherous attention, and
princesses become prisoners in the houses (not homes!) of their absent and
abusive husbands. These inversions offer further proof the power, for good and
ill, of narrative-of the stories we (and, in Cisneros' novel, especially women)
5. While The House on Mango Street is primarily a
novel about one individual, Esperanza, it is also a novel about society.
Identify a way in which Cisneros' book addresses a specific societal problem.
What lessons does the book have to offer?
Students' essays could profitably focus on one vignette as a
way of entering into discussion with the text about a specific social issue.
For example, the vignette "Those Who Don't" emerges as a powerful indictment of
ignorance and racism, both between the majority and minority members of a
society, and within the minority culture itself. Readers' evaluations of the
novel's lessons will vary with their interpretations and their own life
The American Heritageï¿½
Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright ï¿½ 2004, 2000
by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights
C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to
Literature. Third edition. Indianapolis and New York: Odyssey Press, 1972.