The House on Mango Street
The structural organization of Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street, that of brief yet vivid vignettes, is very unique among memoirs. What may at first appear fragmented actually proves very useful in the crafting of the story she is trying to get across. Functioning as a stream of consciousness, the vignettes provide a realistic representation of memory. The emotion derives from the language she uses to describe the events, not through an outright explanation that may be distorted. The style allows Cisnero to communicate both the genuine emotion associated with the memories and prevents the reader from foreseeing the future direction of Esperanza’s life.
The book opens with Esperanza describing her family moving to different homes, and even mentions in her timeline, “before that I can’t remember” (Cisnero, 3). This omission gives the reader a sense that these are genuine memories of the narrator being recorded. In her recollection of having to point out her home to her nun, we sense Esperanza’s feelings of shame, as highlighted by the condescending tone of the nun, “You live there?” (Cisnero, 5). In addition, not using quotation marks for the speech of others give the sense that these lines are not absolute, and only what she remembers they might have been. The stylizations create for an almost dream-like atmosphere in which the authenticity of the memories is not questioned.
Esperanza talks about her name in a way which flows as a stream of consciousness. “In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color” (Cisnero, 10). She does not elaborate on all these comparisons for the reader; it is simply her musings on the page. Yet from it, we can derive the emotion. It exemplifies the disdain she has for her current identity, and how her surroundings have shaped her to be this person she doesn’t like. Her desire to change her name is an extension of this, “a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees” (Cisnero, 11). We do not know whether these desires will come to fruition, we simply know this is how she felt at the time.
The vignette Laughter is about a fairly random, mundane event where Esperanza passed a house that she for some reason looked “like the houses I had seen in Mexico.” Despite this not being the case, her sister Nenny agrees, “Yes, that’s Mexico all right” (Cisnero, 17-8). We can see this event sticks with her because it shows the connection between Esperanza and her sister. Rather than describing her relationship in entirely emotional yet vague writing, she recalls a concrete event that resonates because it emphasises the feeling of closeness that she identifies with her sister, a facet of how memories exist.
Her chapter about Gil’s furniture store contains beautiful descriptions. “It’s like all of a sudden he lets go a million moths all over the dusty furniture… It’s like drops of water. Or like marimbas only with a funny little plucked sound to it like if you were running your fingers across the teeth of metal comb” (Cisnero, 20). This is not a very clear explanation, but we do know that she has to “pretend I don’t care about the box,” indicating her true interest in it. The reader must determine why she has this sense of awe.
These vignettes all appear adjacent to one another, providing no sense of chronology. This is another way in each the book mirrors memories. They are small chunks, not large sequential stories. Because of this lack of order, one cannot determine where the memoir is heading in terms of development or change for Esperanza as the narrator. We are at the mercy of her memory. In this way the reader takes in each story to a greater degree, as they must give insights into the character which a linear narrative would otherwise contain through its progression.
The highly stylized structure of Cisnero’s work creates a piece which enraptures the reader in each, isolated memory. Her lack of emotional detail may leaves readers to infer some things, however, her unfiltered thought stream of description can provide the emotional context we need. By mirroring the nature of memory, a more genuine story has been crafted.