Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Esperanza is one of the only characters in The House on Mango Street with just one name—most characters have two. Some have a real name and a nickname, such as Nenny, whose real name is Magdalena, and Aunt Lupe, whose real name is Guadeloupe. Others have an English name and a Spanish name, such as Meme Ortiz, whose Spanish name is Juan, and Meme’s dog, which has unspecified names in both languages. These dual or multiple names emphasize the mix of cultures and languages that make up Esperanza’s neighborhood and the difficulties her neighbors have in figuring out who they are, in their families, their neighborhood, even their country.
The power of names to transform and empower fascinates Esperanza, who struggles with how to define herself. She mentions the transforming power of names in “My Name,” where she picks Zeze the X as a new name for herself. She also gives her current name, Esperanza, several definitions in order to make it more powerful. In “And Some More,” Esperanza discusses the fact that the Eskimos have thirty names for snow. She speculates that the Eskimos have so many names for snow because snow is so important to them, which suggests that the more names a person has, the more important he or she is. Rachel rejoins by saying that her cousin has three last names and two first names, indicating that she, too, shares the theory that the more names one has, the better. Eventually, Esperanza places more importance on language and description than on naming alone, but her obsession with naming shows an early understanding of the importance of language.
Throughout The House on Mango Street, people fear falling and sometimes actually fall, which suggests the constant threat of failure or injury. Images of falling appear frequently. Angel Vargas and Meme both fall from significant heights, both with disastrous results. Marin waits for a star to fall to change her life. Esperanza even describes herself as floating in an early vignette, as a red balloon on a tether. When she finally abandons her tether, she hopes she’ll fly away and not fall to the ground as Angel and Meme did. Esperanza faces the same fear of falling her neighbors do, and she hopes for a different fate.
Women by Windows
Mango Street is full of women who are trapped by their husbands, fathers, children, or their own feelings of inadequacy. Esperanza’s long-dead great-grandmother married unwillingly and spent her whole life sitting sadly by her window. Four women in Esperanza’s neighborhood are trapped in their apartments—Mamacita, Rafaela, Minerva, and Sally. They sit by their windows all day and look down onto the street. The group makes up a kind of community, but these women cannot communicate, and each keeps to her place without much complaint. Esperanza is determined not to become a woman sitting by a window, and she understands there is something amiss among the women in her world. Eventually, she tries to help by supporting women when she can. For now, however, the women represent a disturbing failure: that of the more liberated women to help their confined and unhappy neighbors.