By the time we got to got to Mango Street we were six—Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me.
Esperanza introduces herself in terms of the places she has lived and the members of her family. They all live in a tiny house and share the one bathroom and one bedroom. As Esperanza tells the story of her first year on Mango Street, the reader imagines her everyday reality in that shabby, overcrowded environment.
I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Something like ZeZe the X will do.
Feeling out of place in her new neighborhood, and self-conscious about her Spanish name, Esperanza imagines a new, more glamorous name and identity for herself. Her choice, Zeze the X, shows that comic books and movies played major roles in shaping her imagination. She still lives in the active imaginary world of childhood.
My mama? You better not be saying that, Lucy Guerrero. You better not be talking like that … else you can say goodbye to being my friend forever.
Esperanza angrily reacts to a gibe aimed at her mother while playing a childish insult game. Lucy, Lucy’s younger sister Rachel, Nenny and Esperanza often play together. Today, their play started out with a discussion of clouds that soon changed into lighthearted taunting. Partly because they play with their younger sisters, Esperanza and Lucy concoct silly wordplays at each other’s expense. When Esperanza changes the rules and takes offense, she seems a long way from growing up.
If I ate at school there’d be less dishes to wash. You would see me less and less and like me better. Everyday at noon my chair would be empty. Where is my favorite daughter you would cry, and when I came home finally at three p.m. you would appreciate me. Okay, okay my mother says after three days of this.
Esperanza talks her mother into letting her take a lunch to school so she can eat with the kids in the canteen. She exaggerates her own emotions for comic effect. We sense her mother’s resolve weakening as she tries not to laugh at Esperanza’s efforts. Esperanza learns to use the power of language to get what she wants.
And Uncle spins me, and my skinny arms bend the way he taught me, and my mother watches, and my little cousins watch, and the boy who is my cousin by first communion watches, and everyone says, wow, who are those two who dance like in the movies, until I forget that I am wearing only ordinary shoes, brown and white, the kind my mother buys each year for school.
Esperanza describes dancing with her uncle at a family party. They practiced their dance prior to the party and Esperanza enjoys the sensation of performing well. The scene shows Esperanza as part of an extended and supportive family. In this secure environment, among the people with whom she truly belongs, she loses her self-consciousness and sense of shame.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to work. I did. I had even gone to the social security office the month before to get my social security number. I needed money. The Catholic high school cost a lot, and Papa said nobody went to public school unless you wanted to turn out bad.
When Esperanza starts high school, she feels ready to contribute to the family finances. The details in this passage reveal that Esperanza’s family believes in hard work and education. Although their house is tiny and crowded, they own their own home. In addition, they pay to send their children to a Catholic school. Esperanza gets her strength from her family’s values.
I had to hide myself at the other end of the garden, in the jungle part, under a tree that wouldn’t mind if I lay down and cried a long time. I closed my eyes like tight stars so that I wouldn’t, but I did. My face felt hot. Everything inside hiccupped.
Esperanza recalls hiding and crying from overwhelming feelings of rejection and confusion after she misinterprets a social situation. She and her friend Sally and some boys had been playing in an empty lot when the boys ganged up to kiss Sally. Esperanza thinks the boys are attacking Sally and runs for help. But Sally and the boys just laugh at her for trying to stop their kissing game. She doesn’t understand Sally’s behavior or why running for help was wrong.
Why did you leave me all alone? I waited my whole life. You’re a liar. They all lied. All the books and magazines, everything that told it wrong. Only his dirty fingernails against my skin, only his sour smell again. The moon that watched. The tilt-a-whirl. The red clowns laughing their thick-tongued laugh.
Here, Esperanza struggles with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted at a carnival. Prior to the assault, Esperanza agreed to meet Sally there, but Sally left with a boy and never showed up. A group of boys overpower Esperanza as she waits alone. After the attack, she raves in anger not only at Sally but at all the lies she has been told about romance. The assault marks Esperanza’s passage from adolescence to adulthood.
Friends and neighbors will say, What happened to that Esperanza? Where did she go with all those books and paper? Why did she march so far away? They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.
Esperanza, now sure of her calling as a writer, knows that she will be strong enough to accomplish her dreams. She no longer feels trapped because she has begun her journey of working toward her dreams. She also recognizes her connections to the other residents of Mango Street, whose stories helped her to become a writer.
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