Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl.
Sally’s father beats her. She comes to school bruised and says she fell, but it’s easy to see she’s been beaten. She tells Esperanza that one time her father beat her with his hands instead of with a belt. Sally’s father is afraid she’ll run off with a man and bring shame to the family like his sisters did. At one point Sally asks to come and stay with Esperanza’s family. She brings over a bag and prepares to move in, but that evening her father comes by with tears in his eyes. He apologizes and asks her to come home. She does, and she is safe for a while. However, one day Sally’s father sees Sally talking to a boy. He beats her with a belt and then with his fists. She is injured so badly that she misses two days of school.
A family with a pet monkey moves away, and the neighborhood kids take over the garden behind their house. The garden quickly becomes a dump for old cars and other trash, but to the children it is a magical place where anything is possible. They explore it, looking for the old, lost things the garden keeps. One day Esperanza is there with Sally. Esperanza wants to run around with the boys, but Sally stays to the side. She does not like to get her stockings dirty, and she plays a more grown-up game by talking to the boys. Tito, a neighborhood boy, steals Sally’s keys, and he and his friends tell her that she has to kiss all of them to get them back. Sally agrees, and they go behind an old car. Esperanza wants to save Sally from being exploited this way, so she runs to tell Tito’s mother what the boys are doing. His mother doesn’t care, and Esperanza sets out to save Sally herself. Arming herself with a brick, she confronts the boys. Sally and the boys laugh at her and tell her to go away. Esperanza hides beneath a tree and tries to will her heart to stop. When she finally gets up she looks at her feet, which look clunky and unfamiliar. The garden seems unfamiliar too.
Esperanza narrates this section after she has been sexually assaulted by a group of boys, and though she gives her impressions and expresses her confusion, she never specifies exactly what the boys do to her. We know Esperanza goes to a carnival with Sally and that she enjoys watching Sally on the rides. Sally seems careless and free, and at one point she disappears with an older boy. While Esperanza waits for Sally to return, a group of non-Latino boys attacks Esperanza. The event is nothing like sexual encounters Esperanza has seen in the movies or read in magazines, or even like what Sally has told her. She is traumatized and keeps hearing the voice of one of the boys saying mockingly, “I love you, Spanish girl.” She blames Sally for abandoning her and not being there to save her, and her anger spreads to all the women who have not told her what sex is really like.
Sally marries before the end of the year. She marries a much older salesman who has to take her to another state where it is legal to marry girls who are under fourteen. Esperanza believes Sally married to escape her house. Sally claims to be happy because her husband sometimes gives her money, but her husband sometimes becomes violent and angry as well. He does not let her go out, talk on the phone, see her friends, or even look out the window. Sally spends her days sitting at home and looking at the domestic objects around her.
Esperanza’s love for her friend Sally translates into a violent need to protect Sally from the outside world, and in this way Esperanza resembles Sally’s father and Sally’s husband. Esperanza wants to keep the boys away from Sally, just as the men do. However, unlike them, Esperanza saves her violence for the boys. In “The Monkey Garden,” she threatens the boys with sticks and a brick. For Esperanza, Sally is part of a possible new lifestyle that she tries on for a little while, abandoning her former friends for her stylish, beautiful, and sexy new one. While Esperanza interprets Sally’s sexual experience as maturity when she first meets her, she eventually discovers that Sally’s search for sexual experiences is actually a desperate attempt to escape her violent father. Sally’s father is one of the worst characters in The House on Mango Street, but when Sally manages to escape him, she finds someone equally bad. She gives up her education to live with a man who does not even let her look out the window. Looking out the window is the last bit of freedom for most of the trapped women Esperanza knows, including Mamacita, Marin, and Rafaela, but Sally is not even allowed to do that. Esperanza tried to protect Sally, but Sally is fated now to a life of looking at the artificial roses on her linoleum floor.
The monkey garden, much like the Garden of Eden, is the place where Esperanza loses a large measure of her innocence, and when Esperanza loses her innocent ideals about her friends and community, she cannot return to the garden. For Esperanza and other young people, the monkey garden is a place of childhood games, but Sally and the boys use it for a more grown-up purpose by hiding behind a car and experimenting sexually. Esperanza is appalled by the complicity of the women in her neighborhood with what she sees as the boys’ sexual manipulation of Sally. The boys are playing a game with Sally that only they can win. Tito’s mother doesn’t seem to care, and her indifference gives the boys tacit permission for what they are doing. Additionally, Sally does not want to be saved. Esperanza is dismayed to see that Sally, too, approves of the boys’ manipulation. Esperanza is ashamed that she put herself at such personal risk, arming herself with a brick, only to be laughed away by the girl she tried to protect. The garden has become a place of danger and confusion, and it is no longer hers.