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The House on Mango Street

An analysis of three literary criticisms

Karla Robertson

on 16 February 2015

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Transcript of The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros can be appreciated through an analysis of literary criticisms. This is evident through an examination of Feminist Criticism, Critical Race Theory, and Marxist Criticism.
The novel, The House on Mango Street, can be analyzed using the literary criticisms of Feminist Criticism, Psychoanalytical Criticism, and Marxist Criticism. Sandra Cisneros, protests against racism and classism, but also against the patriarchy's control of women and their sexuality and that is seen in each of the criticisms analyzed. “Cisneros' narrative illuminates the linguistic, spatial and sexual oppression that racist society imposes on minority—more specifically Chicana—women, but also offers a somewhat hopeful perspective on future possibilities.” (Kuribayashi, 1998)
Feminist criticism looks for sexual oppression and it attempts to expose all negative assumptions about women and patriarchal ways of thinking that have hurt women throughout the years. Patriarchy is the rule of society and culture by men.
Marxist criticism examines the power structures within fiction, particularly those powers that control wealth under direction of the bourgeoisie, thus oppressing the working class, or proletariat.
I her book, Cisneros shows how the patriarchal thinking hurt women. The patriarchal system covers up the truth and romanticizes women's roles so that the women will accept their roles as either whores or wives. In narrating the stories about these women, Esperanza constructs images of women behind windows, entrapped in their own homes. They are also trapped by their circumstances that determine their living conditions as poor Latino women. Unable to break the cycle of poverty or their dependency on men, the daughters are often doomed to repeat the fate of their mothers. (Eysturoy, 1996) When the young girls have their high-heel adventure, they pay the price for looking "beautiful." They discover that a pillar of the community, the grocer, will try to control them by threatening them with calling the police, that a boy will make cat-calls at them to exploit them, and that a bum will attempt to entice them with money if they give him a kiss, representing either prostitution or marriage. (Daniels, 2001)
Cisneros portrays Esperanza as part of an oppressed, working class neighborhood, with very little power. Esperanza is ashamed to live there. She had ideas of living in a house like those of the white middle class society which are displayed in the mass media. “Like the house, Mango Street is the physical and psychological marker of an oppressive socioeconomic situation that makes Esperanza conscious of her own status in a socioeconomic hierarchy: ‘The neighborhood is getting bad,’ she says, and this is why people have to move ‘a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in’" (Eysturoy, 1996) Esperanza sees the house on Mango Street as a symbol of poverty and she is humiliated by living there. The teacher at her school humiliates her further when she is forced to point out where she lives:
Where do you live? she said.
There, I said, pointing up to the third floor.
You live there?
There. I had to look to where she pointed—the third, the paint peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn't fall out.
You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded. (Cisneros, 1984) When socioeconomic conditions render it so difficult or impossible for Chicano to acquire mainstream culture's architectural ideal, which purportedly inspires cultural and economic aspirations in every viewer, it only helps oppress the minority populations further. (Kuribayashi, 1998)
Critical Race Theory states that racism is not abnormal but the natural order of things in America. The movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. Unlike some academic disciplines, critical race theory contains an activist dimension. It not only tries to understand our social situation, but to change it. http://www.odec.umd.edu/CD/RACE/CRT.PDF
Cisneros exposes the stereotypes and racist ideas that many people have about her culture. One idea is where they live. A teacher assumes because Esperanza is Chicana that she lives in a place that “even raggedy men are ashamed to go into.” (Cisneros, 1984) Another idea is the prospect of their future. The fate of the girls seems to be to grow up and get married so that a man can rule over them, or to be prostitutes. She also portrays the neighborhood as tough and dangerous. Esperanza says, “Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives.” (Cisneros, 1984) By exposing these racist ideas, others can see how wrong they are and can lead the way to change. “Latina writers, too, much like the Asian American writers and the African American writers, are mining their ancestral traditions, exposing oppression, and rewriting history from their own point of view. They, too, are gaining a voice in America as the result of straddling boundaries and synthesizing cultures.” (Daniels, 2001)
First, it can be analyzed using Feminist Criticism.
Next it can be analyzed using Critical Race Theory.
Finally, it can be analyzed using Marxist Criticism.

Cisneros, S. (1984). The house on mango street. New York: Vintage Books.

Daniels, P. J. (2001). Cisneros and castillo: Resisting the oppressor, writing a liberation. From The Voice of the Oppressed in the Language of the Oppressor: A Discussion of Selected Postcolonial Literature from Ireland, Africa and America, doi: Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts on File, Inc.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2006, November 11). Critical race theory: An introduction. Retrieved from http://www.odec.umd.edu/CD/RACE/CRT.PDF

Eysturoy, A. (1996). The house on mango street: A space of her own. In Daughters of Self-Creation: The Contemporary Chicana Novel, 89–112, 143. doi: Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts on File, Inc.

Kuribayashi, T. (1998). The chicana girl writes her way in and out: Space and bilingualism in sandra cisneros' the house on mango street. In Creating Safe Spaces: Violence and Women’s Writings, 167-168. doi: Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts on File, Inc.
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