Note: The House on Mango Street is divided,
not into chapters, but into a series of short vignettes, ranging in length from
less than a page to several pages.
The narrator, whom we learn later is named
Esperanza, recounts past places in Chicago where she and her family-"Mama,
Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me"-have lived. In the past, her family
has rented apartments; now, however, her family owns a small house on Mango Street, a house that does not live up to Ezperanza's dreams of what a house should be.
She is embarrassed to admit to a nun from her school that the house is where
she lives. Her parents tell her the house on Mango is only temporary, but
Esperanza is dubious.
Cisneros introduces Esperanza by having her
tell us her story in her own voice, which is a child's voice, expressing itself
in short sentences and often choppy fragments, yet possessing an inkling of
awareness about the adult world-for example, "For the time being, Mama says.
Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go." Readers thus learn that
Esperanza is on the verge of growing up. Her passage into adolescence, her
"growing up," will be the dominant theme of the novel. Esperanza's interaction
with the nun at the end of the vignette dramatizes the shame Esperanza feels at
living in a poor neighborhood. At other times in the book, however, Esperanza
will celebrate the unique virtues of her community. In this sense, the opening
vignette lays the groundwork for the last vignette (see "Mango Says Goodbye