The House on Mango Street
Summary: “Cathy Queen of Cats”
Cathy becomes Esperanza’s first friend in her new neighborhood. Cathy claims to be related to the queen of France and hopes to go to France someday to inherit the family house. She tells Esperanza about the other people on Mango Street and disparages nearly all of them. She agrees to be Esperanza’s friend only for a week, until next Tuesday, when her family will move. She offends Esperanza by telling her that her family is moving because the neighborhood is getting bad, when clearly what makes it bad is that families like Esperanza’s are moving in.
Summary: “Our Good Day”
Esperanza sacrifices her friendship with Cathy by pitching in for a bike that she will share with her two new friends, Lucy and Rachel. Cathy does not want Esperanza to have anything to do with Lucy and Rachel, explaining that they “smell like a broom.” Lucy and Rachel are Chicana sisters whose family is from Texas, and they are more similar to Esperanza than Cathy is. Esperanza is embarrassed to tell her new friends her name, but they don’t laugh at it or find it unusual. Esperanza knows she eventually must share her friends and bike with her sister Nenny, since she took money from Nenny to help pay for the bike, but for now, she decides to wait and keep her new friends to herself. The three girls ride their new bike together around the block, and Esperanza describes the geography of the neighborhood.
Esperanza explains that although she and Nenny do not look alike as Lucy and Rachel do, they do have a lot in common. They laugh in the same, loud way, and sometimes they have the same ideas. One day Esperanza sees a house that reminds her of houses in Mexico, although she can’t say exactly why. Rachel and Lucy laugh at her, but Nenny tells them she was thinking the same thing as Esperanza.
Summary: “Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold”
In Esperanza’s neighborhood, an old black man runs a junk store, and he doesn’t turn on the lights unless he knows his customers have money. Esperanza and Nenny wander around the store in the dark. The store is labyrinthine and full of mysterious items, as well as piles of broken televisions. This is the store where Esperanza’s family bought their refrigerator when they moved into the neighborhood. Esperanza is afraid to talk to the owner and only does so when she buys a little Statue of Liberty. Nenny is not intimidated by him, and one day she asks him about a wooden box in the shop. It is a music box, and the man plays it for them. Esperanza finds the music surprising and emotional. Nenny tries to buy the box, but the man tells her it’s not for sale.
Summary: “Meme Ortiz”
Meme, whose real name is Juan, and his dog, who has both English and Spanish names, move into Cathy’s house after her family leaves the neighborhood. Esperanza describes the house, a wooden house Cathy’s father built. It has a tree in the backyard that is taller than Esperanza’s house. When the kids had a Tarzan jumping contest, Meme jumped out of the tree and broke both his arms.
These chapters paint a geographical and cultural picture from both the past and the present of Mango Street and the surrounding neighborhood. Cathy indicates what the neighborhood may have been like in the past, while the two families that move into her house once she’s left are more representative of the whole neighborhood as Esperanza comes to experience it. The black man who owns Gil’s furniture is an aberration from the rest of the neighborhood, different from the people Esperanza sees from day to day. His race makes him so unfamiliar that Esperanza is afraid to talk to him. Meme and his dog each have two names, a fact that highlights the neighborhood’s two cultures, Latin American and American, and two languages, Spanish and English, revealing the new cultural makeup of Mango Street. When Esperanza bikes around the neighborhood with Lucy and Rachel, she reveals its physical limitations. She points out her house again as rundown, and the neighborhood seems no better. Mango Street is near a dangerous busy street, and her house is still near a laundromat. The laundromat is reminiscent of the laundromat below the apartment where Esperanza used to live. That one was boarded up because it was robbed, and it was a keen source of embarrassment for Esperanza. That her new house is also near a laundromat suggests that the move to Mango Street is far from enough to change her circumstances.
Cathy provides a window into how outsiders view Esperanza’s neighborhood, even though Cathy is blind to her own family’s similarities to the families around them. Cathy’s family is moving because the neighborhood is “getting bad,” a racist reason that Esperanza immediately understands. Esperanza’s immigrant family, as well as other families like hers, is, in Cathy’s family’s view, causing the neighborhood to deteriorate, and the only thing to do is move. However, Cathy’s family does not seem to be struggling any less than the other families in Esperanza’s neighborhood. Their house, which Cathy’s father built, is overrun with cats and has dangerously crooked wooden stairs, no less an eyesore than any other house around them. Cathy, much like Esperanza, has created a world full of dreams and imagination to survive, and she tries to demonstrate her superiority to Esperanza by lying about being the queen of France. Though Cathy does not make racist comments explicitly about Esperanza, Esperanza understands that the comments apply to her, and she describes Cathy as rude. She sees clearly that families like Cathy’s will have to keep moving further away as families like Esperanza’s keep moving in.
In Lucy and Rachel, Esperanza finds the friends she’s been yearning for, but they do not prove to be the kinds of friends with whom she can share her deepest secrets, or who will support her in difficult times. In “Boys and Girls,” Esperanza longs for a friend. She points out that you can’t choose your sister, implying that she isn’t happy spending her time with or sharing her secrets with Nenny. However, when Esperanza does find friends, she finds in “Laughter” that Nenny sometimes understands her better than her friends do. This surprising revelation suggests that although Esperanza is willing to share her story, she won’t be able to share everything with the other young women in her life. She’ll have to go through the process of growing up almost entirely on her own.