“The House on Mango Street”
Esperanza describes how she and her family came to the house on Mango Street after a series of bad experiences with landlords elsewhere. The house is very small, and she doesn’t like to claim it as hers.
Esperanza describes the different types of hair of all the members of her family.
“Boys and Girls”
Outside of the house, Esperanza doesn’t interact with her brothers because boys and girls do not socialize with each other in the neighborhood. Her sister Nenny is her responsibility and too young to be her friend, leaving Esperanza without the best friend she longs to have.
Esperanza was named after her great-grandmother. They were both born in the Chinese year of the horse, which she says is considered bad luck because both Chinese and Spanish cultures discourage strength in women. Esperanza rejects this superstition.
“Cathy Queen of Cats”
Esperanza becomes friends with a girl named Cathy who believes herself to be related to the queen of France and says her family is moving away soon because the neighborhood is getting bad. This comment offends Esperanza.
“Our Good Day”
Against Cathy’s wishes, Esperanza pitches in on a bike with two sisters, Lucy and Rachel, with whom she becomes friends. The three girls ride their new bike together around the block, and Esperanza describes the geography of the neighborhood.
Esperanza explains that although she and Nenny do not look alike as Lucy and Rachel do, they do have a lot in common. They laugh in the same, loud way, and sometimes they have the same ideas.
“Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold”
Esperanza describes a second-hand store in the neighborhood that intrigues her and Nenny, which is run by an elderly Black man named Gil.
Meme, whose real name is Juan, and his dog move into Cathy’s house after her family leaves the neighborhood. When the kids have a contest jumping off the large tree in Meme’s backyard, he breaks both of his arms.
“Louie, His Cousin, & His Other Cousin”
Meme’s family rents their basement apartment to a Puerto Rican family, whose son Louie is a friend of Esperanza’s brother. Louie’s cousin Marin, who is older than Esperanza, wears nylons and makeup, and sings sassy songs about boyfriends, also lives with the family in the basement.
Esperanza notes that Marin doesn’t seem to be afraid of boys and that she has a boyfriend in Puerto Rico that she plans to marry, even though she also longs to meet a rich man in Chicago who will take her out of the barrio. Marin gives the other girls useful information about sex and makeup, baby-sits Louie’s sisters during the day, and spends evenings outside where she listens to the radio, dances, smokes, and waits for boys.
“Those Who Don’t”
Even though people say her neighborhood is unsafe, Esperanza and her friends are never scared. She notes that she does get frightened when she goes into a non-Chicano neighborhood, however.
“There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do”
Rosa Vargas is a single and overwhelmed mother with many children whom Esperanza and the rest of the neighborhood consider “bad.” Esperanza says that the Vargas children don’t care about anyone, and that the people of the neighborhood don’t care about the Vargas children, even when one of them, Angel, falls from a great height and dies.
“Alicia Who Sees Mice”
Alicia is a neighborhood girl who attends college far away, partly to escape the harsh reality of having to take care of her widowed father and family. Her father gives her a hard time about her studies, saying that a woman’s job is to get up early to make tortillas for her siblings’ lunches.
“Darius and the Clouds”
Even though Esperanza complains about the inner city, saying there is not enough sky, flowers, or butterflies, the neighborhood children make the best of what they have. Darius, a boy that Esperanza doesn’t like because he tries to act tough, impresses her one day when he calls a puffy cloud “God.”
“And Some More”
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel talk about clouds and their names, which leads to an argument. Esperanza uses scientific names for them, Rachel and Lucy compare them to things they see every day, while Nenny ignores the arguments of the others and gives them names like Lisa and Ted.
“The Family of Little Feet”
Esperanza, Nenny, Rachel, and Lucy try on some high-heeled shoes, subjecting them to sexual comments from some males in the neighborhood. The girls hide the shoes and then Rachel and Lucy’s mother finds them and throws them away, much to the girls’ relief.
“A Rice Sandwich”
Esperanza envies the kids who get to eat lunch in the canteen at school instead of at home, so she pesters her mother to write her a note giving her permission to eat at the canteen and to pack her a lunch. Her mother reluctantly does so even though she must make her a rice sandwich since the family is too poor to afford lunch meats. One of the nuns at school shames her for being poor.
Esperanza is embarrassed by the old shoes she wears to her cousin’s baptism but has a nice time when her Uncle Nacho tells her she is beautiful and does a fancy dance with her. Everyone watches and applauds them, and Esperanza is proud that one boy in particular watches her dance.
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel jump rope and discuss the purpose of hips, with Rachel saying they are good for propping a baby on, Lucy saying they are for dancing, Nenny, saying that without them you might turn into a man, and Esperanza trying to defend Nenny by giving a scientific explanation of their purpose. When the girls start making up chants about hips, Nenny repeats a rhyme she knows, which Esperanza finds childish.
“The First Job”
After lying about her age, Esperanza gets a summer job, which is easy except for the social aspects of being around people she doesn’t know. She is relieved when an older co-worker befriends her, but then he aggressively and inappropriately grabs and kisses her.
“Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark”
When Esperanza’s father weeps as he shares that his father, her abuelito, has died, she imagines what it would be like if her hardworking and devoted father were to die.
Esperanza worries that she will go to hell when her invalid Aunt Lupe dies shortly after she, Rachel, and Lucy make fun of her in a game. Esperanza was fond of her aunt, who encouraged her to continue writing poems, saying it would keep her free.
“Elenita, Cards, Palm, Water”
Esperanza has her fortune told at the house of Elenita, a neighborhood woman who says she sees jealousy, sorrow, and luxury in Esperanza’s future. Esperanza asks whether Elenita sees a house in her future, but Elenita says she sees only a house of the heart, much to Esperanza’s disappointment.
“Geraldo No Last Name”
Marin dances with a young man from Mexico named Geraldo who is struck by a car when they leave the dance hall, dying shortly afterward. Esperanza imagines Geraldo’s life as a series of run-down apartments and demeaning jobs to send money back home to Mexico, where his people will wonder what became of him and will not know he is dead.
Ruthie is the grown-up daughter of Edna, a mean landlord who owns the apartment building next door to Esperanza’s house. Ruthie likes to play with the children because she has never grown up enough to handle the adult world.
“The Earl of Tennessee”
Earl, another of Esperanza’s neighbors, is a jukebox repairman who works nights, has two lively dogs, and occasionally gives records to the children. Earl brings women to his apartment for quick visits, and sometimes neighbors will see one of these women and assume that she is Earl’s wife.
Esperanza forms her first crush on a neighborhood boy named Sire, who her parents do not like and warn her to avoid. Esperanza imagines herself as Sire’s girlfriend and wonders what it feels like to be held by a boy.
“Four Skinny Trees”
Esperanza compares herself to the trees by her house since she feels that neither she nor the trees belong in the barrio. She is inspired by them because they continue to grow despite being surrounded by concrete.
“No Speak English”
Mamacita, the wife of one of the neighbors, misses Mexico and does not assimilate or leave her apartment, preferring instead to sit by the window listening to Spanish radio. Mamacita is heartbroken when her child learns English and insists on speaking it, even though Mamacita cannot understand the language and considers it ugly.
“Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut & Papaya Juice on Tuesdays”
Rafaela is a beautiful woman whose husband locks her in their apartment because he fears she will escape. She leans out the window and sometimes drops down a dollar so Esperanza and her friends can buy her juice. At bars, women can dance and flirt, but they risk being imprisoned in the same way as Rafaela.
Sally is a beautiful girl who attracts vicious gossip, but Esperanza thinks she is wonderful and would like to be her best friend. Sally’s father thinks her beauty is dangerous and doesn’t let her out of the house, causing Sally to wish she didn’t have to go home after school.
“Minerva Writes Poems”
Minerva is only two years older than Esperanza, but she is married with two children and a husband who comes and goes as he pleases and beats her. Minerva and Esperanza bond over their shared passion for poetry. She visits Esperanza one night after being abused and asks for advice, but Esperanza has none to offer.
“Bums in the Attic”
On weekends, Esperanza used to visit the nice suburban houses with gardens that her father worked at, but she stops going because she tires of looking at what she believes she cannot have. She imagines living in one of those houses and inviting homeless people to live in her attic because she understands how it feels to not have a house.
“Beautiful & Cruel”
Esperanza worries about her appearance, at least partly because it is considered important in attracting a man to take you away from the barrio. She imagines not waiting for a husband to take her away, but instead being like the strong women in movies who have the power to attract men and then refuse them.
“A Smart Cookie”
Esperanza’s mother looks back on her life and regrets not having accomplished all she could have with her talents. She advises Esperanza to learn how to take care of herself and to not rely on men.
“What Sally Said”
Sally’s father abuses her, and his beatings have become increasingly severe.
“The Monkey Garden”
Esperanza and Sally hang out in an abandoned garden when some neighborhood boys steal Sally’s keys and tell her she must kiss them to get the keys back. Esperanza threatens the boys with a brick, but Sally and the boys just laugh at her and tell her to go away, much to Esperanza’s distress.
Esperanza is sexually assaulted by a group of boys at a carnival while she waits for Sally to come back after leaving with an older boy. 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 blames Sally for abandoning her, and then her anger spreads to all the women who have not told her what sex is really like.
Sally marries a much older salesman who takes her to another state where it is legal to marry girls who are under fourteen. Sally claims to be happy because her husband sometimes gives her money, but he is violent and keeps her isolated.
“The Three Sisters”
When Lucy and Rachel’s baby sister dies, Esperanza spends time at the gathering before the burial talking to three of their elderly aunts, whom Esperanza finds fascinating and thinks are magical. They tell Esperanza to make a wish. One guesses that her wish is to leave Mango Street and then says that even though she will be able to leave, she should come back for the others.
“Alicia & I Talking on Edna’s Steps”
Esperanza is jealous that Alicia has a town to call home, Guadalajara, and she will return there someday, but Alicia observes that Esperanza already has a home. Esperanza shakes her head and says she does not want to come from Mango Street.
“A House of My Own”
Esperanza describes the qualities of her ideal house: picturesque, not belonging to a man, flowers in front, a porch, and her shoes beside the bed. She describes the house as safe and full of potential.
“Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes”
Defining herself as a storyteller, Esperanza says she is going to tell a story about a girl who did not want to belong. She says that of all the houses she has lived in, it is the one on Mango Street that she remembers the most, and that writing about it frees her from the house’s grip. One day she will pack her books and writing materials and leave Mango Street, but she will have left only to come back for the others who cannot get out on their own.