Thursday, November 30, 2006

No shame in belonging

In finishing The House on Mango Street I was impressed by how simply, and eloquently Cisneros brings together the themes of home, shame, belonging, and heritage through the evolution of her character, Esperanza. I really felt the book came full circle and I like how Cisneros literarily shows this in repeating some of the first lines that appear in the book. I love the last lines: “They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out”, because it shows the resolution Esperanza comes up with in struggling between her past and her future. This line also reminds me of Calvino’s book, where certain people are trapped by cities, where others are free to move about and travel from and to different cities.
I think the most important lesson Esperanza learns is not necessarily about what home means, but rather that shame can be a destructive emotion and that she should have pride from where she comes from, simply because it is where she comes from. Esperanza hears her mother say, “Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You want to know why I quit school? Because I didn’t have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains. Yup, she says disgusted”. This same lesson is reiterated to Esperanza through the character Alicia and her acceptance for Esperanza’s home on Mango Street. In learning this lesson Esperanza settles the internal conflict she has in her cultural past and her perspective future. I think she becomes comfortable with the idea it’s ok to belong at Mango Street for the time being, and it’s ok to leave it as long as she remembers her history.
By the end of the book her obsession of her very own home comes to symbolize her growing individuality, or her dream as she loses innocence and transforms from child to adult. Her desire for a house no longer stands for Esperanza’s hope for a better family life. It now represents a defining of Esperanza as her own person. On page 108 Esperanza calls a house of her own “a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go”. A house has become Esperanza’s adult goal, not just a childish dream she imposed on her entire family. In this transition Esperanza’s gradual entry into adulthood has been marked. I think she has realized she may never change the lives of her entire family, but she does have control over her own individual future. Esperanza’s mother advises her, “Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard… Got to take care all your own”. I think by the end of the novel Esperanza has come to a deeper understanding of this advice and realizes her place in the family in coexistence with her individuality. I think this understanding is similar to how people around the world define themselves in cities. One must know who they are individually and then understand who they are to the city, or what role they play in existing in a city, or if not a city a neighborhood or smaller community. The search begins internally and moves outward. Structurally Cisneros has mastered this movement back and forth from internal to external viewpoints, as we have discussed in class. Her novel describes this universal search that all humanity experiences no matter what city you live in- the search of where and how an individual belongs.