The House on Mango Street and "Woman Hollering Creek" and Other Stories have enjoyed wide critical and popular favor, and deservedly so. Engagingly readable, their appeal is immediate, yet they open up areas of experience new to many U.S. readers. Sandra Cisneros' fictional "voice" and her feminism are often praised, yet there are many voices in her fiction — not all of them female — and each is wholly individual, defining a character we recognize as a unique human being, often in only a few sentences. Academic critics point out mythic connections in Cisneros' stories, yet in each of them — whether the setting is Chicago in the 1960s, 1980s San Antonio, or early-twentieth-century Mexico — the real world is foremost, crowding into our senses by way of language that is concrete and precise.
The House on Mango Street
The first of these works, The House on Mango Street, originally published in 1984, has been especially popular in schools. The narrator and main character is Esperanza Cordero, a girl just entering adolescence, who introduces and describes her family and friends and her day-to-day life with all its troubles and pleasures, in a direct, engaging, and delightfully original voice. Esperanza speaks to readers her own age in their own language; older readers will gain from her narrative an ironic awareness that Esperanza herself does not yet possess.
The book has been called a collection of stories, even a group of prose poems. Yet if a novel is a longish fiction following the course of ordinary life and showing the development of a character through tension and conflict, Mango Street fits the definition very comfortably. Its central theme is a universal one: a young girl's struggle both to find her own place within her culture and, at the same time, to discover and preserve her individuality. The book's structure, which may appear at first to be a random ordering of incidents and reflections, is actually what holds the seemingly disparate pieces of narrative together, creating lines of tension and conflict out of what Esperanza tells us.
"Woman Hollering Creek" and Other Stories
"Woman Hollering Creek" and Other Stories, the second of Cisneros' fictional works, is a group of 22 short pieces, all self-contained, variously set in Texas, Chicago, and Mexico, mostly from the 1960s to the late 1980s (with one exception, "Eyes of Zapata," which takes place in the early years of the twentieth century).
Cisneros' Writing Style
Both The House on Mango Street and "Woman Hollering Creek" and Other Stories by Cisneros may seem to the hasty first-time reader to be casually, even loosely constructed, yet the careful reader suspects that nothing could be further from the truth. The poet W. B. Yeats writes, about writing: "A line may take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." The "stitching and unstitching" Yeats meant was the writing of poetry, the painstaking effort to make it look effortless. Cisneros' fiction may sometimes "seem a moment's thought," but she is a fooler. Like the best poetry, her work is both direct and ambiguous; it rings true on many levels. It challenges and continues to reward the serious reader.