The House on Mango Street - Part 1
Also see: Mango - Part 2 | Mango - Part 3 | Mango - Part 4
Step One of Six: Read and Annotate While Listening to Part 1 of The House on Mango Street.
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We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can't remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time it seemed there'd be one more of us. By the time we got to Mango Street we were six—Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me.
The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don't have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it's not the house we'd thought we'd get.
We had to leave the flat on Loomis quick. The water pipes broke and the landlord wouldn't fix them because the house was too old. We had to leave fast. We were using the washroom next door and carrying water over in empty milk gallons. That's why Mama and Papa looked for a house, and that's why we moved into the house on Mango Street, far away, on the other side of town.
They always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn't have to move each year. And our house would have running water and pipes that worked. And inside it would have real stairs, not hallway stairs, but stairs inside like the houses on TV. And we'd have a basement and at least three washrooms so when we took a bath we wouldn't have to tell everybody. Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed.
But the house on Mango Street is not the way they told it at all. It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath. Bricks are crumbling in places, and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in. There is no front yard, only four little elms the city planted by the curb. Out back is a small garage for the car we don't own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the two buildings on either side. There are stairs in our house, but they're ordinary hallway stairs, and the house has only one washroom. Everybody has to share a bedroom—Mama and Papa, Carlos and Kiki, me and Nenny.
Once when we were living on Loomis, a nun from my school passed by and saw me playing out front.
The laundromat downstairs had been boarded up because it had been robbed two days before and the owner had painted on the wood YES WE'RE OPEN so as not to lose business.
Where do you live? she asked.
There, I said pointing up to the third floor.
You live there? There. I had to look to where she pointed—the third floor, 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.
I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn't it. The house on Mango Street isn't it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go.
Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa's hair is like a broom, all up in the air.
And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carlos' hair is thick and straight. He doesn't need to comb it. Nenny's hair is slippery—slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur.
But my mother's hair, my mother's hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring. The snoring, the rain, and Mama's hair that smells like bread.
The boys and the girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours. My brothers for example. They've got plenty to say to me and Nenny inside the house. But outside they can't be seen talking to girls. Carlos and Kiki are each other's best friend . . . not ours.
Nenny is too young to be my friend. She's just my sister and that was not my fault. You don't pick your sisters, you just get them and sometimes they come like Nenny.
She can't play with those Vargas kids or she'll turn out just like them. And since she comes right after me, she is my responsibility.
Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.
In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.
It was my great-grandmother's name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse—which is supposed to be bad luck if you're born female—but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don't like their women strong.
My great-grandmother. I would've liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn't marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That's the way he did it.
And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn't be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window.
At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister's name—Magdalena—which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza.
I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.
She says, I am the great great grand cousin of the queen of France. She lives upstairs, over there, next door to Joe the baby-grabber. Keep away from him, she says. He is full of danger. Benny and Blanca own the corner store. They're okay except don't lean on the candy counter. Two girls raggedy as rats live across the street. You don't want to know them. Edna is the lady who owns the building next to you. She used to own a building big as a whale, but her brother sold it. Their mother said no, no, don't ever sell it. I won't. And then she closed her eyes and he sold it. Alicia is stuck-up ever since she went to college. She used to like me but now she doesn't.
Cathy who is queen of cats has cats and cats and cats. Baby cats, big cats, skinny cats, sick cats. Cats asleep like little donuts. Cats on top of the refrigerator. Cats taking a walk on the dinner table. Her house is like cat heaven.
You want a friend, she says. Okay, I'll be your friend. But only till next Tuesday. That's when we move away. Got to. Then as if she forgot I just moved in, she says the neighborhood is getting bad.
Cathy's father will have to fly to France one day and find her great great distant grand cousin on her father's side and inherit the family house. How do I know this is so? She told me so. In the meantime they'll just have to move a little farther north from Mango Street, a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in.
If you give me five dollars I will be your friend forever. That's what the little one tells me.
Five dollars is cheap since I don't have any friends except Cathy who is only my friend till Tuesday.
Five dollars, five dollars.
She is trying to get somebody to chip in so they can buy a bicycle from this kid named Tito. They already have ten dollars and all they need is five more.
Only five dollars, she says.
Don't talk to them, says Cathy. Can't you see they smell like a broom.
But I like them. Their clothes are crooked and old. They are wearing shiny Sunday shoes without socks. It makes their bald ankles all red, but I like them. Especially the big one who laughs with all her teeth. I like her even though she lets the little one do all the talking.
Five dollars, the little one says, only five.
Cathy is tugging my arm and I know whatever I do next will make her mad forever.
Wait a minute, I say, and run inside to get the five dollars. I have three dollars saved and I take two of Nenny's. She's not home, but I'm sure she'll be glad when she finds out we own a bike. When I get back, Cathy is gone like I knew she would be, but I don't care. I have two new friends and a bike too.
My name is Lucy, the big one says. This here is Rachel my sister.
I'm her sister, says Rachel. Who are you?
And I wish my name was Cassandra or Alexis or Maritza—anything but Esperanza—but when I tell them my name they don't laugh.
We come from Texas, Lucy says and grins. Her was born here, but me I'm Texas.
You mean she, I say.
No, I'm from Texas, and doesn't get it.
This bike is three ways ours, says Rachel who is thinking ahead already. Mine today, Lucy's tomorrow and yours day after.
But everybody wants to ride it today because the bike is new, so we decide to take turns after tomorrow. Today it belongs to all of us.
I don't tell them about Nenny just yet. It's too complicated. Especially since Rachel almost put out Lucy's eye about who was going to get to ride it first. But finally we agree to ride it together. Why not?
Because Lucy has long legs she pedals. I sit on the back seat and Rachel is skinny enough to get up on the handlebars which makes the bike all wobbly as if the wheels are spaghetti, but after a bit you get used to it.
We ride fast and faster. Past my house, sad and red and crumbly in places, past Mr. Benny's grocery on the corner, and down the avenue which is dangerous. Laundromat, junk store, drugstore, windows and cars and more cars, and around the block back to Mango.
People on the bus wave. A very fat lady crossing the street says, You sure got quite a load there.
Rachel shouts, You got quite a load there too. She is very sassy.
Down, down Mango Street we go. Rachel, Lucy, me. Our new bicycle. Laughing the crooked ride back.
Step Two of Six: Read Two or Three Vignettes Aloud
Choose two or three of the first six vignettes from The House on Mango Street - aloud. Record yourself reading two or three vignettes from this VoiceThread. (You will need to log in. You can register if you don't have an account, or ask your teacher.) You should practice first. Also listen to the other recordings on each page.
Step Three of Six: Use Literature Guides to answer one or two of these questions from the "South Gate Middle School Journal Guide"
Use a Google Doc to compose, share and get comments from peers, revise, proofread, and edit an essay that follows one of the suggested guides. Then post your literary essay as a discussion on Youth Voices.
1. In the first chapter, "The House on Mango Street," a major theme of the novel is introduced. Discuss what the narrator’s view of a home is. What makes a house a home? Is the narrator satisfied with her house? Does she feel that she belongs there? Explain, using either Tracking the Themes / Seguimiento de los Temas or Questioning and Speculating to begin talking about this theme in The House on Mango Street..
2. In the second chapter, "Hairs," the narrator talks about her mother's hair. What makes her mother’s hair special? What are the narrator’s feelings for her mother? What words does the narrator use to describe her mother’s hair? What food words are used to describe her mother’s hair? What images do these words create? How do these words create a vivid visual of her mother? How does the description of snuggling with her mother at night provide a sense of a loving and supportive family? Write about these questions, using either Tracking the Characters or Character Traits and Relationships.
3. In the fourth chapter, "My Name" Esperanza explains the various meanings of her name in a series of metaphors and similes. What do the metaphors and similes mean on a literal level? On a figurative level? How does this description add to the overall explanation of her name? What words does the narrator use to describe Esperanza’s name? How do these words create a sense of the whole of Esperanza? How does the description provide a sense of both the meaning of her name and her personality? What does Esperanza feel is her legacy? What connects her to the past? What images does the author use to create this connection? Use either Character Analysis Introduction or Character Archetypes to describe the Experanza's feelings about her name.
4. In chapters three, five, and six, "Boys & Girls," “Cathy Queen of Cats,” and "Our Good Day," another major theme of the novel is touched upon, the idea of poverty and shame is brought up again in these chapters. In "Boys & Girls," About what does the narrator dream? What does this say about her? In chapter five, Cathy looks down on the two sisters for the same reason that Esperanza identifies with them. What lines support this idea? In chapter six, in spite of the poverty on Mango Street, Esperanza finds happiness and beauty. What lines or events show Esperanza’s ability to find happiness in every day activities? Use either Tracking the Themes / Seguimiento de los Temas or Questioning and Speculating to begin talking about the theme of poverty and racism in The House on Mango Street. Or use Character Archetypes to describe the narrator's feelings about Cathy.
Step Four of Six: Play games with these flashcards.
Step Five of Six: Have conversations by posting comments and replies.
Step Six of Six: Do some research about The House on Mango Street, making notes. Then post new comments and replies on discussions about the first six vignettes of this novel.
While reading these web pages from "Gale Virtual Reference Library" or from "Lit Charts," pause frequently and post notes in Hypothes.is. Later, copy you notes into Docs, using either Adding a quotation... or Quoting a speech... or Dialectical Notes. Use these notes to add new comments on other students' "The House on Mango Street - Part 1" discussion posts (literary essays) using the Commenting Guide: Quoting a Source in a Comment.
Another text that might push your thinking on this book: (Each column is readable at 150%.)