Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Shoes in The House on Mango Street frequently evoke images of sex and adult femininity, and for Esperanza they illustrate the conflict she feels between her emerging sexual attractiveness and her desire for independence. Esperanza makes the connection between shoes and sex for the first time when she, Lucy, and Rachel try on high-heeled shoes a neighbor gives them. The shoes transform their scarred, childish feet and legs into long, slim women’s legs, and what began as a childhood game of dress-up becomes something more dangerous, as male neighbors ogle them hungrily. That afternoon, they are happy to abandon the shoes, claiming they are bored with them. For the moment, Esperanza can smoothly shed her new sexual attractiveness and become a child again.
When shoes appear again, Esperanza can’t discard them so easily. When Esperanza attends a dance and wears brown saddle shoes with her pretty new dress, she is almost paralyzed with embarrassment and self-consciousness. Men ask her to dance, and she wants to dance, but she wants more to hide her worn-out little-girl shoes. Though she eventually dances with her uncle and relishes the stares of a boy, she is aware of her clunky shoes the entire time. When Esperanza wants to befriend Sally, who is sexually mature, she describes Sally’s black suede shoes and wonders if she can convince her mother to buy her a similar pair. When Sally abandons Esperanza in the monkey garden in order to fool around with boys, Esperanza thinks her own feet look foreign. Finally, in Esperanza’s vision of her dream house, her shoes are beside the bed, suggesting that she does have or will have some measure of control over her own sexuality, if only in her imagination.
Esperanza expresses respect and admiration for trees throughout The House on Mango Street, and her affection stems from her identification with their appearance, resilience, and independence. In “Four Skinny Trees,” Esperanza personifies the trees in her front yard, saying she and they understand each other, even that they teach her things. She relates to the trees because they don’t seem to belong in the neighborhood and because they persevere despite the concrete that tries to keep them in the ground. Esperanza herself does not seem to belong, and she plans to persevere despite the obstacles posed by her poor neighborhood. Esperanza views the trees almost as a reflection of herself, comparing her own skinny neck and pointy elbows to the tree’s spindly branches.
The tree in Meme Ortiz’s backyard has particular resonance for Esperanza. Even though the tree eventually turns out to be dangerous, since Meme jumps out of it and breaks both of his arms, Esperanza claims it is the most memorable part of Meme’s backyard. She points out that the tree is full of squirrels and that it dwarfs her neighborhood in age and size. This tree has flourished even more than the trees in her front yard have, again without anybody doing much to help it. Meme’s hardy tree was probably once like the elms in Esperanza’s yard, which suggests that Esperanza will perhaps be able to grow into a strong and independent woman despite the setbacks in her first year on Mango Street.
The House on Mango Street contains many small poems and references to poems, which emphasize the importance of language to Esperanza and her neighbors. These references and poems include a poem Esperanza writes, jump-roping chants, and simple, internal rhymes within paragraphs of the text. We never hear some of the poems, such as those Esperanza recites to Ruthie, or those Minerva writes. The abundance of poetry suggests that the women and girls on Mango Street try to make their lives better by describing the world with beautiful language. The novel itself, with its many internal rhymes, is in some ways Esperanza’s long poem, her attempt to make some of the unpoetic aspects of her life less hard and more ordered through poetry.