Summary: “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark”

Esperanza’s father tells her that her grandfather, or abuelito, has died. He cries, which is astounding for Esperanza to see. He will have to go to Mexico for the funeral, and Esperanza will have to explain to her younger siblings that they will not be able to play or go out today. Esperanza tries to imagine what it would be like if her father, who wakes up every morning before sunrise to go to work, died. She holds her father in her arms.

Summary: “Born Bad”

Esperanza and her friends Rachel and Lucy pray for themselves because they played a game that made fun of Esperanza’s Aunt Lupe just before she died. Aunt Lupe was a strong and beautiful swimmer in her youth, but for all of Esperanza’s life, she was bedridden and sick. The game consisted of the girls imitating someone they all knew. They usually imitated famous people, but one day they picked Lupe. Although Esperanza was afraid to visit Lupe, she liked her. She would bring library books and read to Lupe, and one day she whispered one of her own poems in Lupe’s ear. Aunt Lupe told Esperanza that she should keep writing because it would keep her free. Out on the schoolyard it was different, and Esperanza and her friends took turns imitating Lupe, not knowing she would die the next day. For this transgression, Esperanza believes she will go to hell.

Summary: “Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water”

Esperanza has her fortune told at the house of Elenita, a witch woman. Elenita seems very much like the other women in the neighborhood, except that she is somewhat better off. She is home with her two kids and has covered her sofas with plastic so the baby won’t dirty them. She tries to get Esperanza to see something in a glass of water, but Esperanza can’t really concentrate or believe in the spirits. Esperanza pays more attention to the Bugs Bunny cartoon in the background. Elenita puts out the Tarot cards and sees jealousy, sorrow, and luxury. Esperanza just wants to know whether Elenita sees a house in her future, but Elenita sees only a house of the heart. Esperanza pays Elenita five dollars and goes home disappointed.

Summary: “Geraldo No Last Name”

Marin meets a young man named Geraldo at a dance and dances with him a few times. After they leave the dance hall, a car strikes Geraldo, who speaks no English. He dies in the emergency room because no doctors come to help him. Marin has stayed with him at the hospital, although she does not know why. She has to answer the police’s questions, but she can’t tell them much. She doesn’t even know Geraldo’s last name. Esperanza imagines Geraldo’s life—a series of run-down apartments and demeaning jobs to send money back home to Mexico. She also imagines the people in Geraldo’s community in Mexico, who will wonder what became of him and will not know he is dead.


In “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark,” Esperanza empathizes with her father for the first time. She tries to put herself in her father’s shoes by imagining what it would be like if her own father died. Previously, Esperanza has empathized with people only implicitly, and all of the people whose lives she has tried to imagine, such as Marin and Alicia, have been women. Esperanza’s grandfather’s death brings her face to face with her father’s emotions for the first time. This section also marks the first time Esperanza must act as a parent. Since her father goes to Mexico for the funeral, Esperanza must explain the death to her siblings and keep discipline. While Alicia had to take the role of her mother, Esperanza takes over for her father. This subversion of gender roles foreshadows Esperanza’s future rejection of her role as a woman in her own house.

Read a mini-essay about the role of death.

Until “Born Bad,” Esperanza has enjoyed writing and wanted to leave the neighborhood, but she never made the connection between the two desires. Aunt Lupe broaches the idea that Esperanza might be able to use the first to achieve the second. Lupe is the first person in The House on Mango Street to strongly support Esperanza’s writing. Lupe doesn’t compliment Esperanza after hearing her recite a poem, but instead tells her to keep writing because it “will keep [her] free.” In the poem Esperanza recites for Lupe, Esperanza writes that she would like to jump out of her skin and shake the sky. Lupe resembles many seers and prophets from ancient mythology. She is blind, but she is wise and prophetic. Yet like most seers, she is ignored and mocked while she is alive. The girls are uncomfortable in her smelly apartment and play games in which they imitate her. Only after her death does Esperanza look back upon her as having been wise.

Read more about the importance of language.

Aunt Lupe is a real fortuneteller, with an accurate prescription for escaping the barrio: hard work. Esperanza, however, wants an easier answer, so she sees a fortuneteller, Elenita, to ask if a house is in her future. Elenita’s methods are a mixture of Catholic and pagan tradition, and though Esperanza wants to believe them, she can’t. Her skepticism saves her from disappointment when Elenita gives her an ambiguous message, and it gives her the freedom to realize the prudence of Aunt Lupe’s advice to determine her own fate. Esperanza’s continued fascination with a home of her own has been strengthened by the deaths in her family and her difficulties at work. Elenita offers her the quickest way to get a home for herself, a home that will perhaps be more secure than any other kind, although Esperanza does not realize it. “A home in the heart” would be self-generated and thus inviolable and private, safe from sexual threats and the criticism of people like the nuns. Because she has not yet reached artistic or emotional maturity, though, Esperanza is not able to accept the idea of such a home, let alone construct one.

Read more about magic and the supernatural.