Alicia is a neighborhood girl whose mother has died. She must do all the cooking and cleaning for her father. Alicia is also trying to attend college, traveling far on public transportation every day so she can escape a life of domestic toil. She stays up all night studying and thus sees the mice that come out at night. Her father gives her a hard time about her studies. He says the mice don’t exist and that a woman’s job is to get up early to make tortillas for her younger siblings’ lunches.
Esperanza complains about living in the inner city, saying there is not enough sky or flowers or butterflies. Yet the children in the neighborhood make the best of what they have. One day, when the sky is full of puffy clouds that everyone is admiring, Darius, a boy Esperanza doesn’t like because he tries to be tough, says something Esperanza finds wise: he looks up at a particular cloud and calls it God.
A conversation about clouds between Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel turns into a fight. Esperanza says the Eskimos have thirty different names for snow, which leads them into a discussion about names for clouds. Esperanza knows two names: cumulus and nimbus. She is concerned with the actual names, while Nenny makes up lists of everyday names, such as Lisa and Ted. Nenny does this throughout the story and refuses to respond to her sister or to her friends while they are fighting. Rachel and Lucy are more interested in what the clouds are similar to in their everyday lives, like hair after it’s been brushed or their friend’s fat face. One of the girls says Esperanza has an ugly fat face, and after this the girls playfully exchange creative insults.
Esperanza imagines a family of people with tiny, plump feet. Her description of the fairy-tale family merges into an account of a day when a woman gives her, Nenny, Rachel, and Lucy some old pairs of high-heeled shoes that happen to fit their small feet perfectly. The girls are amazed at these shoes because when they put them on, they suddenly have attractive, womanly legs. Some of their male neighbors warn them that such suggestive shoes are not meant for little girls, but the girls ignore them. Other men tease them with sexual comments. The shoes cause a flirtation between Rachel and a drunken bum. He asks her to kiss him for a dollar. Frightened, Lucy leads the girls back to Mango Street. They hide the shoes on Rachel and Lucy’s porch, and later Rachel and Lucy’s mother throws them away. The girls are glad the shoes are gone.
Though Cathy introduced Alicia in an earlier section as having gotten snobby since she went to college, here we see that Cathy’s description is inaccurate. Alicia isn’t snobby—she’s busy. She is struggling to fulfill the responsibilities of a full-time mother while trying to get an education. Her father faults her for not working enough for the family, and the neighborhood calls her “stuck-up,” but she is actually striving for self-improvement. The patriarchal nature of Hispanic society poses a problem for girls with ambitions, such as Alicia and Esperanza. In these families, when the mother dies, the oldest female child, not the father, takes over responsibility for raising the children, which is why Alicia wishes there were someone older to do the work. To escape her situation, Alicia has chosen to pursue an education, much different from Marin’s or Louie’s other cousin’s escape routes. Alicia does not have the support of her family or the community, which means she’ll have a difficult time overcoming a sexist tradition. Because Alicia is the character most similar to Esperanza so far, her struggles suggest that Esperanza, too, will have difficulty asserting and achieving her independence.
Darius is the first boy Esperanza encounters who has poetic instincts similar to hers. This chapter is closer to a poem than any of the chapters so far. It contains many repeated words and internal rhymes: the word sky appears four times in the first paragraph, and the rhyming school and fool appear in the second. Though Esperanza lists Darius’s transgressions, including chasing girls with firecrackers and a stick he says has touched a rat, she can’t help expressing admiration for Darius’s explanation that a single cloud is God. She is surprised that such a profound observation could come from a boy like Darius. Cisneros gives the impression that Darius may be forced by society into acting tough. Just as Esperanza does, he has his own way of coping with the barrio, necessarily different from Esperanza’s way because he is a boy. However, he too has the ability to be poetic and wise despite his circumstances.