‘The House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros (1984)

23Feb05

This novel seems like a modern-day version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” In Gilman’s story the unnamed narrator is literally imprisoned in a room that separates her from the rest of her family and the outside world. Gilman wrote the piece to protest a popular medical treatment of her time, which prescribed total bed rest and isolation for women suffering from depression. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” describes the insanity that this treatment can cause. But more than that, the short story provides social commentary on women’s limited roles in society.

Like the narrator in Gilman’s story, Cisneros’ narrator Esperanza feels a similar imprisonment. Gilman’s narrator’s surroundings are literally meant to imprison her: the bars at the window, the gate at the top of the stairs, steel rings on the wall, and the nailed-down bedstead. Esperanza’s surroundings, the house on Mango Street, are not so obviously ominous but are equally imprisoning. Rather than being confined on the basis of her sex, Esperanza is trapped both ethnically and economically. Her house, indeed her neighborhood, defines her place in society.

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