Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Sky" in The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is told from the unique perspective of a young Puerto Rican girl named Esperanza. In the beginning of the book, Esperanza wants her own house “with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence” (Cisneros 4). Esperanza’s family is unable to leave the small red house on Mango Street and near the end of the book Esperanza still yearns for “a house all my own…a space for myself to go” (108). Esperanza desires freedom from the financial burdens that plague her family and from community to which she is confined. She wants a house without a fence and freedom to move from neighborhood to neighborhood instead of being confined to her all-Puerto Rican community. She wants opportunities that are not available in her community.

Esperanza’s desire for freedom is expressed throughout the book with the image of the sky. She says, “You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky” (33). Esperanza seeks liberty that is not granted in her community. She worries about becoming like her grandmother who “looked out of the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow” (11). Esperanza’s grandmother was not blessed with the freedom to do what she wanted and Esperanza does not “want to inherit her place by the window” (11) looking at the sky and world instead of experiencing it. The sky again represents Esperanza’s desire for freedom in a poem she writes: “I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind…One day I’ll jump out of my skin. I’ll shake the sky like a hundred violins” (61). Her aunt tells her to keep writing because it will keep her free.

Although Esperanza still wishes for the sky at the end of the book, the advice of the three sisters (105) influences her. Esperanza is no longer a “red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor” (9) waiting to float into the sky. She will instead keep her feet planted firmly on the ground and “march so far away” (110), but she will always return again. She says that she will leave Mango Street, but that her family and neighbors “will not know that I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” (110). Esperanza recognizes that there is a part of her that belongs to Mango Street and she has a responsibility to the neighborhood she wants to escape. The aunts help Esperanza realize that leaving a neighborhood is not only leaving crowded houses, but also leaving people. Esperanza does not want to leave the people on Mango Street, but the circumstances in which they suffer. Esperanza will leave Mango Street, but she will return to the people whose hair and smells she knows because not everyone is able to escape. Esperanza also seems to realize that her earlier desire for a “house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works” (86) will not provide the freedom she seeks, but rather it would impose new constraints upon her. Esperanza will need to balance the outside world she seeks with the close-knit community she knows to live fully and experience what the whole city of Chicago has to offer.