What role does death play in The House on Mango Street? How do the many deaths in the novel relate to one another, and how do they influence Esperanza?
Five people die in The House on Mango Street: Angel Vargas, Esperanza’s grandfather, Aunt Lupe, Geraldo, and Rachel and Lucy’s baby sister. Spanning all ages, these characters include an infant, a boy, a young man in his twenties, and two elderly figures. The deaths of the young people show that Mango Street is a dangerous place to grow up. Geraldo dies because of a bad hospital’s neglect, and Angel’s death is due to negligent parenting. These deaths are a reminder that these children’s lives are fragile, and that although Esperanza describes her neighborhood as normal, it is not actually a safe environment for children. These deaths also play an important role in pushing Esperanza toward finding her place in the adult world.
Angel Vargas is the first character to die in The House on Mango Street, and Esperanza does not take his death to heart. She compares him to a falling doughnut: it is a death that causes no noise from him or from the community, and it has no emotional resonance for her. When her grandfather dies, however, Esperanza must look at death more seriously. Angel’s death does not lead Esperanza to imagine what it would be like if one of her siblings were to die, but when her grandfather dies, she tries to put herself in her father’s shoes and imagine how she would feel if he died. When Esperanza’s Aunt Lupe dies in the following chapter, Esperanza does not need to feel empathy. She feels both sad and responsible for her aunt’s death. This escalation of feeling suggests that Esperanza is maturing emotionally. By the end of the novel, Esperanza is still working on the process of coming to terms with death. She attends Rachel and Lucy’s sister’s wake and feels uncomfortable and out of place. However, she is beginning to perceive death as something with real consequences. The three sisters Esperanza meets at the wake encourage her to help the living by remembering the other women in her community.
What role does magic or the supernatural play in The House on Mango Street? How does it affect and influence Esperanza?
Esperanza encounters women she associates with magical powers twice in the novel. The first time, she seeks out Elenita, a witch woman, who gives her an unsatisfactory Tarot card reading. The second time, three sisters Esperanza describes as not related to “anything but the moon” speak to her at a wake. In both cases, the women speak truth in their own way. Elenita tells Esperanza she will have a house in the heart, and eventually Esperanza finds exactly that, through the solace writing gives her. The sisters tell Esperanza that her wish for a house away from Mango Street will come true. While Esperanza never actually leaves Mango Street, her assured voice in the last chapter suggests she will do so eventually, and that when she does, she will heed the sisters’ advice and return to help others.
Even though these women are prescient in some ways, it is difficult for Esperanza to believe or understand them. When she is with Elenita, Esperanza lies about her hand feeling cold. Elenita’s apartment seems more normal than spiritual to Esperanza, since she hears a Bugs Bunny cartoon and a crying baby in the background. She is disappointed by Elenita’s prophecy. Esperanza is more willing to believe the sisters’ prophecy because they predict that Esperanza will get what she wants. However, she is confused by their advice to return to the neighborhood. Esperanza does not see the supernatural in her Aunt Lupe, but her aunt’s advice, that writing will set her free, is just as perceptive as the advice she receives from Elenita and the sisters. What Esperanza sees as magic may actually be just sound advice.
Discuss the role of parents in the novel. How can Esperanza’s relationship with her parents be characterized? In what ways is it different or similar to other characters’ parent/child relationships in the novel?
Esperanza defines herself as being completely separate from her parents. For most of The House on Mango Street, she clings to the belief that she does not belong in her house or in her neighborhood. She distances herself from her house physically by spending most of her time outdoors, and she distances herself from it emotionally by denying her place there. In both cases, Esperanza is distancing herself from her parents. Finding an independent existence away from them is an important part of growing up, and throughout the novel, Esperanza searches for new role models among the women in her neighborhood. She further distances herself from her parents by refusing to go on their weekend visits to the suburbs to dream about houses. In doing so, she gives up a rare opportunity to spend time with her family—particularly her hard-working father—because she is tired of seeing nice houses that she cannot have.
Despite Esperanza’s efforts to be independent of her parents, they do play a crucial role in her life. All around Esperanza are examples of bad parents: Sally’s father beats her, Minerva’s father left her mother, Minerva’s husband leaves his children, and the Vargas kids’ father has abandoned them. Similarly, Ruthie’s mother Edna shows no love for her daughter, and Tito’s mother does not care how Tito behaves toward girls. Esperanza’s parents at least set a good example and try to instill values in their daughter. They advise Esperanza not to hang around with Sire, a neighborhood punk, and Esperanza’s mother tells her never to be ashamed as she was in her youth. Her parents show that they value education highly by sending their children to a private Catholic school they can barely afford. Esperanza may not like where her parents have chosen to live, but at least their home is not dangerous, which might force Esperanza into early marriage as a way of escape. Though Esperanza may not acknowledge or appreciate them, her parents are significant role models.