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BKMT READING GUIDES
The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
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Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.
Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.
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Discussion QuestionsQuestions from Publisher's Teaching Guide:
Language: image, metaphor, and voice
1. Throughout the book Cisneros has Esperanza employ common idiomatic phrases that serve as a kind of shorthand. Analyze some of the following phrases and suggest what Esperanza means by them—and what the author means to tell us about Esperanza herself: a) "But I know how those things go."  b) "people like us"  c) "We take what we can get and make the most of it"  d) "Ain't it a shame"  e) "Same story" 
2. In the story "Hairs," Esperanza describes her mother's hair as being "like little candy circles all curly and pretty."  What does this metaphor, and those in the next paragraph, suggest about Esperanza's feelings for her mother? Where else in the book do metaphor and simile convey information about the narrator as well as about the person or thing she describes?
3. In "Gil's Furniture Bought and Sold," Cisneros describes the sound of an old music box: "It's like all of a sudden he let go a million moths all over the dusty furniture and swan-neck shadows in our bones."  This technique, in which a sound is described in terms of things seen and felt, is called synesthesia. Where else in the book does Cisneros use synesthesia? Write descriptions of: a) a place, using sounds; b) a piece of music, using smells; c) a meal, using colors; d) a person, using taste and touch.
4. In "Boys & Girls," Esperanza describes herself as "a balloon tied to an anchor."  What are the connotations of this metaphor, and what does it tell you about Esperanza? Where else in the book does Cisneros use images and metaphors associated with the sky? What ideas do these recurring images evoke? Where else does Sandra Cisneros use related images to suggest complicated themes?
5. In "Chanclas," an embarrassed Esperanza declines her cousin's invitation to dance, because her feet "are growing bigger and bigger." What Cisneros is describing is not a literal reality but a feeling that in turn suggests other feelings. In this case, the sensation in Esperanza's feet tells us about her self-consciousness and embarrassment. Where else does the author use this technique? Describe the following situations in terms of the sensations they might evoke in different parts of your body: a) entering a dark basement b) seeing a pet die c) learning that someone you secretly care for also likes you d) making a speech at your high school graduation e) seeing a baby brother or sister for the first time.
6. The last sentence of the book is: "For the ones who cannot out."  Strictly speaking, the sentence is ungrammatical, since "out" is not a verb. Why do you think Cisneros has chosen to break perceived rules of grammar here? Might there be any relation between "breaking" grammar and breaking out of Mango Street?
III. The people on Mango Street
1. Why do you think Cisneros tells the reader about Esperanza's house before she writes about her name? Why is where Esperanza lives more important than who she is?
2. How old do you think Esperanza is? Where in the book does Cisneros suggest her age?
3. Of what is Esperanza ashamed?
4. What makes her cry?
5. What makes her angry?
6. How does she feel about the men in "The Family of Little Feet," "Chanclas," "The First Job," "Sire," and "The Red Clowns"?
7. Throughout The House on Mango Street, Cisneros's narrator describes herself from two points of view: as she sees herself and as she believes others see her. We can find an example of this in "My Name": "At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth." Where else in the book does Cisneros convey this dual consciousness? How does Esperanza see herself? How does she think other people perceive her?
8. Although Esperanza is clever and often very perceptive, she is still a child, and Cisneros sometimes shows her failing to see the significance of things that would be obvious to someone older. An example can be found on pages 24-5, when Esperanza and her friends take a ride in a flashy car driven by Louie's cousin, who is promptly arrested by the police. An adult might be suspicious about the new car and would probably not wave so cheerfully when Louie was taken away. What is the effect of making Esperanza what is sometimes called an "unreliable narrator"? Where else in the story does Cisneros use this technique?
9. At the novel's end, Esperanza declares that she is too strong for Mango Street to keep her forever. What is the nature of her strength? How does Cisneros establish this characteristic elsewhere in the book?
10. What is the significance of the information in so many of the chapter titles, i.e., "Alicia Who Sees Mice," "Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark," "Minerva Writes Poems"? How important is this information to your sense of who these people are? What other details does Cisneros use to establish them? How would your sense of these people change had the author employed other details—how they look, what they wear, what they do for a living?
IV. Themes: houses; boys and girls/men and women; belonging and not belonging; going away and coming back
1. After rereading the chapters "The House on Mango Street," "Bums in the Attic," and "A House of My Own," write a description of Esperanza's house. How does she feel about it? How do you think her house might look to a stranger? In what kind of house would she like to live?
2. In "Boys and Girls" [8-9], Cisneros writes, "The boys and the girls live in separate worlds." In "Beautiful & Cruel," there is the declaration "I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain."  How would you describe the respective worlds in which Cisneros's boys and girls live? What kind of men and women are they likely to become when they grow up? How would you sum up the book's depiction of relations between the sexes? Use incidents and descriptions in such stories as "My Name," "Marin," "Alicia Who Sees Mice," "Rafaela Who Drinks Coconut and Papaya Juice on Tuesdays," "Sally," "Minerva Writes Poems," "Beautiful & Cruel," "Sally Says," and "The Monkey Garden."
3. Esperanza describes a number of women as possible role models: Marin [26-7], Alicia [31-2], Sire's girlfriend Lois [72-3], Sally [81-3, 92-8]. What does she admire about these women? What things can they teach her?
4. In the stories "My Name" and "No Speak English," Cisneros describes a gulf between two languages, a gap of meaning and of feeling. In English, for example, Esperanza means hope; in Spanish, says the narrator, it suggests sadness and waiting . How does Esperanza feel about her two languages—and by extension, about her two cultures? How does she feel about the society outside her barrio? Look particularly at the chapters "Cathy Queen of Cats," "Those Who Don't," "Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark," "Geraldo No Last Name," and "Bums In the Attic."
5. When Esperanza visits Elenita to have her fortune told, the witch tells her that she sees "an anchor of arms" and "a home in the heart." What is the possible significance of these visions? How do they tie in to themes Cisneros develops elsewhere in the book?
6. Nearly all the characters in Cisneros's book dream of escaping. What do they want to leave? Describe the ways in which different people try to escape, as well as the result of their efforts. Do you think that Esperanza's dreams of escaping are likely to be more successful? How does being poor—as most of these characters are—affect one's chances of escaping a dead-end neighborhood or fulfilling other dreams?
7. Aunt Lupe tells Esperanza that writing "will keep you free." In what way can writing be an avenue of freedom? What does freedom mean to you? What activity gives you a sense of freedom?
8. The three sisters tell Esperanza, "When you leave you must remember to come back for the others." What do they mean by this? In what way does Esperanza reconcile her longings to escape Mango Street with her loyalty to her origins? How might a writer like Cisneros come to terms with leaving a place like Mango Street? How would you choose to remain faithful to a place you needed to leave?
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