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The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: Born Bad

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Esperanza is feeling guilty "because of what [she, Lucy, and Rachel] did to Aunt Lupe." She is referring to her Aunt Guadalupe, who in her younger days was a strong swimmer, but in her old age became sick and bedridden. The girls were playing a game in which they imitated various people: famous people at first, but then people they knew in their own lives. Esperanza chooses to mimic Aunt Lupe. The day after the girls played the game, however, Aunt Lupe dies. Esperanza feels shame as she remembers how Aunt Lupe encouraged her (that is, Esperanza's) writing, telling her that writing will bring Esperanza freedom. And then, following Aunt Lupe's death, Esperanza begins to dream "the dreams."
This section shows Esperanza experiencing, rightly or wrongly, the grown-up emotions of shame and guilt. It also shows her wrestling with the very grown-up question of evil: "I don't know who decides who deserves to go bad. There was no evil in her birth. No wicked curse. One day I believe she was swimming, and the next day she was sick." Esperanza is recognizing the fact that life is sometimes, for no reason, unfair. She is struggling to make sense of out random chance, senseless circumstances. Being able to acknowledge, as she does, that "diseases have no eyes" can be understood as actually a mature, straight-ahead look at the facts of life. Furthermore, Esperanza displays a mature understanding of how people can "die" in more than the literal sense: "She had been dying such a long time." While this statement is true of Aunt Lupe physically, it is also true of her emotionally-and, notably, the emotions of which Aunt Lupe has been dying for these many years are shame and embarrassment, the same emotions Esperanza is now feeling because of the childish game she and the other girls played. Thus, in several ways, this vignette brings Esperanza even closer to adulthood.
Readers may wonder whether what Esperanza read to Aunt Lupe, Charles Kingsley's The Waterbabies (first published as a magazine serial 1862-63, and in book form 1863), contains any thematic resonances with Cisneros' novel. Does it serve what some literary scholars call an "intertextual" purpose-using one text to comment upon another? Readers' answers will vary based on their experience of Kingsley's text, but one point of connection may be in the water imagery of the story, which readers can pick up on from the title alone. Water and babies may (especially given the Roman Catholic background in which Esperanza is growing up; see also the baptismal party she attends in "Chanclas") evoke images of baptism: of rebirth, of new life. Such rebirth is essentially what Esperanza is longing and looking for. Children's literature expert Humphrey Carpenter has written:
Kingsley had what can only be described as an obsession with washing and cold water. "Not for nothing," he told a gathering at a Mechanics' Institute, "was baptism chosen by the old Easterns as the sign of a new life" (Carpenter 30-31).
In The Waterbabies, Tom, the main character, undergoes a (Christian) process of initiation. Carpenter goes on, however, to render this verdict about Tom:
The Water-Babies has often been judged a failure because it achieves nothing fully. Tom himself never develops into anything; he remains in effect a baby (though nominally he grows up at the end), and he is charged with none of the meaning that may be found in his counterpart, Peter Pan (Carpenter 38-39).
Perhaps, then, Cisneros has chosen to evoke The Waterbabies as a subconscious reminder that Esperanza must avoid Tom's fate: she must develop into something; she cannot afford to stagnate. She must be born again as her own, unique, individual self-a task all adolescents must achieve in order to develop into healthy adults.

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