The House on Mango Street Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: Edna's Ruthie

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Esperanza introduces us to yet another neighbor, Edna's daughter Ruthie, "the only grown-up we know who likes to play." Although Ruthie lives outside Chicago, she is always sleeping on her mother's couch on Mango Street. "[S]he says she's just visiting and next weekend her husband's going to take her home. But the weekends come and go and Ruthie stays." Ruthie tells Esperanza that she used to write children's books. Esperanza recites "The Walrus and the Carpenter" for her, but Ruthie's response is a seeming non sequitur: "You have the most beautiful teeth I have ever seen."
In this vignette, Esperanza speaks again as a child. Readers will be able to guess what Esperanza does not: Ruthie stays on her mother's couch on Mango Street because her husband, most likely, abuses her (compare Alicia's treatment at her father's hands in "Alicia Who Sees Mice" and Sally in "What Sally Said"). Granted, Ruthie's odd behavior could be due to some other, unidentified factor, but-given the recurring motif of battery of women in Cisneros' novel, as well as the omnipresent threatening undercurrent to scenes of sexuality-abuse seems the most likely explanation of Rosie's regression.
As in "Born Bad," Cisneros here introduces another text into her text: Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (a part of Through the Looking Glass, first published 1872). Does Carroll's poem serve an intertextual purpose? On the surface, the poem is a fine piece of nonsense-as nonsensical, perhaps, as Ruthie's sometimes random conversation. But it can also be viewed as a poem about victimization. Note that Esperanza calls attention to the final lines: "But answer came there none-and this was scarcely odd, because they'd eaten every one." In the poem, the Walrus and the Carpenter eat four small oysters, trying to converse with them as they do, and even aware at some level of the malice of what they are doing (for example: "'It seems a shame,' the Walrus said, / 'To play them such a trick, / After we've brought them out so far, / And made them trot so quick!' / The Carpenter said nothing but / 'The butter's spread too thick!'"). Like the innocent oysters, Ruthie may be viewed as a victim, preyed upon by one stronger than she is. Ruthie was not always weak-significantly, bearing in mind the conclusion of the book, she was a writer-but her strength has been taken away by her abusive husband. And while readers may be alert to concerns about seeing abused women in real life solely as victims, without the potential to be empowered to break free from abuse, within the world of The House on Mango Street, Ruthie may be a foil to Esperanza, a character who heightens aspects of another by embodying that other character's opposite traits. Ruthie was a writer who has, so to speak, lost her voice; in contrast, by the novel's end, Esperanza, a burgeoning writer, will discover the power of hers.

 The House on Mango Street Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


 The House on Mango Street Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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