The House on Mango Street
Summary: “No Speak English”
Mamacita is the wife of one of Esperanza’s neighbors. Her husband works very hard to bring her and her child to Mango Street, but once Mamacita arrives, she never leaves the house. She misses Mexico and refuses to assimilate. She is hugely fat, but Esperanza also finds her beautiful. She sits by the window, listens to Spanish radio, and wishes to go home. Some people think she never leaves her room because she is too fat or because she cannot get down the three flights of stairs, but Esperanza believes she refuses to come down because she doesn’t speak any English. Esperanza’s father explains how hard it is to live in the United States without knowing English, saying that when he first arrived, the only food he knew was “hamandeggs,” so he had to eat hamandeggs three times a day. The final blow for Mamacita is that her child, whom she has brought with her from Mexico, learns English. It breaks her heart that even he insists upon speaking this ugly language that she cannot understand.
Summary: “Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays”
On Tuesdays, when Rafaela’s husband has his poker game, he locks her in their third-floor apartment because she is so beautiful, he’s afraid she’ll escape. She spends these afternoons and evenings leaning out the window, which makes her prematurely old. She wants to go dance at the bar down the street while she is still young, but instead she has to drop a dollar out of the window so that Esperanza and her friends can buy her some coconut or papaya juice at the store, which Rafaela then hauls up on a clothesline. At the bar, women who are older than Rafaela are allowed to dance and flirt, but each risks being imprisoned in the same way as Rafaela.
Sally is extremely beautiful. She wears Cleopatra makeup, nylons, and short skirts. At school she leans against the fence, and all the boys spread vicious gossip about her. Sally’s father thinks her beauty is dangerous and doesn’t let her out of the house, but Esperanza thinks Sally is wonderful and would like to be her new best friend. She wants to learn to line her eyes as Sally does. Esperanza understands that Sally wishes she didn’t have to go home after school so she wouldn’t have to worry about her father, gossip, or not belonging.
Summary: “Minerva Writes Poems”
Minerva is only two years older than Esperanza, but she is married with two children. Her husband has left her, but he sometimes returns, only to leave again. At night, after the children go to bed and she is alone, Minerva writes poems. She shares her poems with Esperanza, and Esperanza shares hers. However, Minerva also continues to take her husband back, even when he beats her. She visits Esperanza one night after being beaten up and asks for advice, but Esperanza cannot offer any. She doesn’t know what will happen to Minerva.
Each of the four women in these sections represents a possible fate for women on Mango Street, and they appear in the order of how similar they are to Esperanza, as well as in the order of how vulnerable they are. Such ordering suggests the urgency of Esperanza’s situation. Mamacita is from Mexico and is stuck because of language, which is one thing Esperanza will not have to worry about. Rafaela has become prematurely old, which distances her from Esperanza. While Sally is Esperanza’s age, she is not as similar to Esperanza as is poetic Minerva. Minerva and Esperanza are nearly the same age and are both aspiring poets. Although Mamacita is unhappy, her sadness springs from her own helplessness, not from her husband. Rafaela is trapped at home, but she does have the freedom to make exchanges with the children through the window. Sally is completely under her father’s thumb, and Minerva is in constant personal danger. While other women can sit by the window to dream, Minerva’s husband throws a rock through her window. When Minerva comes to Esperanza for guidance, Esperanza says she can do nothing to help. Esperanza will have to work hard, and quickly, if she does not want to end up like Minerva.
In “No Speak English,” Esperanza sees that not knowing the language can keep people caged. Without language, Mamacita is miserable. While others make fun of her appearance, Esperanza views Mamacita as a tragic figure. She believes Mamacita is stuck at home because of the language barrier. In other vignettes, Esperanza has associated naming and linguistic ability with power and freedom, and here, she shows that the converse of that theory is true. Because Mamacita does not speak English, she must live her life in a cage. In Esperanza’s experience, language leads to freedom. If self-expression does equal freedom as Esperanza hypothesizes, becoming a writer suddenly makes sense as the perfect way to escape the neighborhood.