Book Summary


The House on Mango Street

Esperanza Cordero and her parents, sister, and brothers move into a house on Mango Street, after having lived in numerous other locations in Chicago, only some of which Esperanza remembers. At least this latest house is the Corderos' own, but in other respects, it is not the house Esperanza would have hoped for. Esperanza meets some of her neighbors — Cathy (whose family is about to move out because the neighborhood is going downhill), Lucy and Rachel (two sisters who live across the street), a boy named Tito, another named Meme Ortiz (whose family has moved into Cathy's house), yet another boy named Louie, Louie's cousin Marin, and Louie's other cousin.

Esperanza gets to know Marin a little better and learns that she is hoping to marry a boy in Puerto Rico but that she is still interested in other boys. Esperanza reflects that people who don't live in the neighborhood are afraid to come into it, whereas those who live there feel quite safe but are afraid to go into other neighborhoods. She tells about the Vargas kids, whose father left and whose mother can't control them, and about Alicia, who is going to the university and at the same time keeping house for her father. Esperanza and her friends hang out, looking at clouds, talking idly. A woman gives Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel three pairs of high-heeled shoes, which they wear around the neighborhood.

Esperanza pleads with her mother to let her take her lunch to school, but when she is allowed to do so, she doesn't enjoy it. She goes to a baptismal party for a baby cousin and dances with her uncle. She, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel talk about getting hips, and Esperanza gets her first job, in a photo-developing store. Her grandfather dies in Mexico, her Aunt Lupe dies in Chicago, and Esperanza goes to a fortune-teller who informs her that she will have a home in the heart. At a dance, her friend Marin meets a man who is later injured in a hit-and-run accident; Marin waits in the hospital while he dies. Esperanza describes two neighborhood adults whom she finds interesting: Edna's daughter Ruthie and a jukebox repairman named Earl. She tells about a boy — Sire — who sometimes stares at her, and talks about her relationship to four trees growing from the sidewalk in front of her house.

Then Esperanza describes two married women she knows — Mamacita, who is very fat, very homesick, and cannot speak English, and Rafaela, who is young and beautiful, and whose husband locks her in their apartment while he goes out to play dominoes with his friends. Sally, who is about Esperanza's age, makes herself attractive to boys and young men but is mistreated by her father, who is afraid she will run away with some boy or young man. And Minerva (who also writes poems), not much older than Esperanza, has two little children and a husband who leaves her sometimes but then comes back and beats her.

When she has a house, Esperanza says, it will be a big, fine one, and she will let "bums" stay upstairs in the attic. She has decided to be independent, like a man. Her mother tells her that she herself quit school because she was ashamed of her clothes.

Sally's father beats her so badly that her mother allows her to come and stay with Esperanza's family, but he comes to get her, begs her to come home with him, and then beats her worse. Esperanza and Sally go to play in an overgrown and deserted garden, but Sally would rather hang out with the boys, and Esperanza embarrasses herself by trying to protect Sally, who doesn't want to be protected. The two girls go to a carnival, and Sally leaves with a boy; Esperanza, waiting for her to return, is overpowered by several strangers and sexually assaulted by one of them.

Now Sally has married a young man she met at a school function, and he makes her stay in their house and won't let her friends visit. Lucy and Rachel's youngest sister, an infant, dies; at their house, Esperanza meets her friends' three aunts (or, most likely, great aunts), who draw her aside and tell her she is special. When she leaves Mango Street, they say, she must not neglect to come back for those who can't leave. Her friend Alicia echoes this advice when they talk on Edna's steps. And, at last, Esperanza says that she will have a house of her own, she will someday leave Mango Street — and, sometimes, writing about it helps her make it leave her — but she will come back for the others.

"Woman Hollering Creek" and Other Stories

Twenty-two 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) comprise "Woman Hollering Creek" and Other Stories. Characters narrate all but three or four of the stories, and these voices vary from that of a five-or- six-year-old girl to that of an elderly man. Several of the pieces are only a page or two long; the two longest, "Eyes of Zapata" and "Bien Pretty," are each about 29 pages. Most of the stories are non-traditional in structure, following a non-linear shape in which the narrator "circles" around her or his topic, examining it from various angles and in various times. Those that do follow a conventionally linear pattern tend to flatten that pattern ironically. All of the pieces are serious; many are very funny, too.