The House on Mango Street: Metaphor Analysis

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Houses and homes: The novel opens by depicting the titular house, which fails to live up to Esperanza's high, ideal expectations. With its poor condition and cramped quarters, the house on Mango Street is not "the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket. [or] the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed." At this point, therefore, the house symbolizes the gap between dreams and reality, between hope (Spanish, esperanza) and experience. Esperanza will spend the novel longing for, as she says, a "real house"-in other words, a home, a place where she is free to be herself. Her visions of a home do not necessarily include the rest of her family; rather than being an indication of some selfishness on Esperanza's part, however, readers can interpret the family's absence as a natural expression of Esperanza's normal, healthy, adolescent need to discover herself as an individual. As opposed to a mere "house," a "real home" functions as symbolic shorthand for a fully developed identity.
Feet: In "And Some More," we hear the comment "Your ugly mama's toes" hurled as an insult. The passing line is but one of many references to feet in The House on Mango Street. Someone from an ethnic and cultural background quite different from Esperanza's, white male American novelist and minister Frederick Buechner, has written: "If you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are." Nevertheless, despite their difference, Esperanza might agree with Buechner. Esperanza is aware of her feet: at times, as in "Chanclas," painfully: "My feet swell big and heavy like plungers." At other times, however, her feet are symbols of who she is in her innermost self. In fact, within that same vignette, "Chanclas," as Uncle Nacho pulls Esperanza onto the dance floor at the baptismal celebration, Esperanza reports that she and her uncle dance like a couple in the movies, "until I forget that I am wearing only ordinary shoes, brown and white." She is not heavy and burdened down, as she sees her feet; she is free, as her dancing feet really are. Another vignette in which feet feature prominently is "The Family of Little Feet." In that section of the book, the feet of the girls, clad in hand-me down, "dress up" shoes, serve as symbols of the girls' incipient sexuality, in both its initial innocence-"Today we are Cinderella because our feet fit exactly."-but also in its potentially threatening aspects: "[T]he truth is it is scary to look down at your foot that is no longer yours and see attached a long long leg." Through the course of the novel, then, Esperanza's feet take her on a journey from childhood to maturity, from innocence to wisdom. Her feet take her to her destination of individual identity.
Names: No reader of Cisneros' novel can fail to be impressed by the attention the author pays to names. Esperanza's name, of course, encapsulates one of the book's dominant themes, but other names-or, as in the case of such tragic characters as Geraldo, the lack of names-also carry great symbolic import. From Esperanza's initial wish to rename herself as, basically, an almost-algebraic unknown variable ("Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do") to Meme Ortiz' daring act of renaming himself and thus shaping his own identity to "Mamacita's" lack of a proper name indicating her inability to adapt to a hostile dominant culture, names are an important metaphor for identity in The House on Mango Street-as, indeed, they are in much literature.

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