A House on The Mango Street Research Paper on Protagonist

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Entombed Dreams: A Psychoanalytic and Feminist Perspective on the Protagonist of The House on Mango Street

By – Shafinaz Sikder

June 2016, Issue XVII

Download the paper in PDF 


Introduction to the Author:

Paper on A House on the Mango Street ShafinazShafinaz Sikder is currently working as a course instructor in a private university of Bangladesh (United International University).  She has completed her under graduation and post-graduation on ELT and Applied Linguistics from BRAC University. She has also been working in different private schools during her graduation program. Recently she is interested in research related to development of traditional materials to suit her students’ needs. She is also interested in designing different communicative materials to promote a communicative approach within the existing system of teaching English language courses.


Abstract: As the author of the novel “The House on Mango Street”, Sandra Cisneros portrayed herself as the main protagonist of the novel. Therefore, this paper is mainly an overview on the protagonist’s character as Esperanza whose characteristics can be analyzed from both a psychological and feminist perspective. As analyzed and criticized over years by many researchers, the character of this protagonist with her incomplete dreams of uprooting her real identity is still in a mystery. As a Hispanic author, and women, the author had some sort of inferior complexity regarding her subordinate position as a woman within the patriarchal society which can be categorized with all sorts of humanly possible tortures, crimes and sufferings. The fact is, the dream that she used to have as a young girl (to uproot her identity) somewhat get reversed during her mature age. As matured woman, in much later time of her life, Sandra wanted to come back and help out the others who were suffering like her. This is because she had the realization that identity is something that she can never separate or tear away from her; it is something within her and will remain with her forever. The home, the Hispanic society and the Mango Street is all that gave birth to who she is today and this is what the paper tried to shed lights on. That is to say, the paper tried to analyze the mystery of this character, disguised as Esperanza, whose dreams and attempts to change her self-identity is still unknown to us.

Keywords: Psychoanalysis, feminist, Hispanic, self-identity


Can you imagine a dove trapped all its life within a cage? A cage she longed to get rid of from her childhood and tried hard until she gave up? What do you think if you let it free one day?  Probably it will fly away but it will not be unusual for it to come back again and again because she knows that she ‘belongs to’ it. What I mean is that the dove has accepted the cage as its own home and its world and now it just cannot leave it so easily to go wherever it wants.

Sandra Cisneros’ The House On mango Street is one such novel which tells the story of a young girl who ‘did not want to belong’ (Cisneros, 109) yet she knows that she belongs to that very ‘Mango street’ just like this dove; the place she hates the most, the one she wanted to leave and forget forever. No doubt many readers of this novel could love to claim it as a feminist ideology or something that deals with issues of racism and social difficulties or may be with class conflicts. However, according to the researcher, the novel is a reflection of the famous Hispanic writer’s own hardships of childhood through the protagonist Esperanza[1]. The main purpose of this paper is not to prove that Esperanza is a feminist or a victim of racism but to show what effects the society had on this pubescent’s psychological growth which made her long for escapism; so much so as to remove her self-identity in search of a new ‘Esperanza’. In other words, the objective was to show how much she actually could or could not uproot her ‘real identity’. Therefore, the paper pointed out some factors like domination, torture and violence, sexuality, dreams of independency, and frustrations which infiltrate her life to such an extent that Esperanza suffers from an identity crisis, thus putting herself into this insecure psychological dilemma of whether to leave or stay in the Mango street.

To begin with, it can be said that there were some kinds of domestic torture and dominations which Esperanza faced as a growing Chicana girl and which slowly shattered all her dreams leaving her with the dilemma of whether to live in Mango street or not. As a young and inexperienced teenager, Esperanza saw and experienced a lot of male domination over the girls she used to live with and who would wish all their life to get out of this patriarchal control. In other words “Most of the women yearn for different endings” (Doyle 17). That means women of all ages were dominated and subjected to different kinds of household works which made their lives restricted evoking the secret desire for a better existence. That is to say, according to the text, “she is a young girl surrounded by examples of abused, defeated, worn-out women, but the woman she wants to be must be free”[2].  However, as she was growing up with all these subjugated women, naturally the harsh reality was somewhat clashing with her desire to be independent which she knew was not easily attainable. In fact this is how she was being mentally pressurized by her inner conflicts of an independent dream and the truth that she was a helpless ‘Hispanic female’. As illustrated by Harold Bloom, “she discovered the meaning of being female and Mexican living in Chicago.”[3]So it can be understood that she was fighting only within herself in search of another ‘new Esperanza’ which finally lead to the inner obstructions and the determination of uprooting her real identity.

This is only a minor description of how she was growing up with the punishment of a crime she had never committed; that is being ‘financially insolvent’, a ‘Hispanic’ and more importantly growing up as a ‘weaker gender’ in the society.  Nevertheless what gave her the ultimate ‘punishment’ for being a ‘female’ is when she was forced into sexual harassment by an older man, “He[the older man] grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard and does not let go (Cisneros 55)”. This is again because sexual harassment is very common in impoverished societies everywhere around the world, as is the case in Cisneros’ Mexico, where girls like Sally, Martin, Alicia and Rafaela were subjected to it.[4]This shows how women are treated as being something different, therefore considered as a separate ‘species’. This issue is therefore argued and debated by many feminists like Kate Millet who says that “A female is born but a woman is created”[5] which means that a girl is born as an innocent human but she is turned into a ‘woman’ by all the conventional ideas imposed by a patriarchal society of what a ‘woman’ should be.

Now the point is that these kinds of oppression made her dream, and dream something quite impossible for the time being. In other words, poverty was always been an obstacle yet not for her dreams but also for her lifelong desire. Her unimaginable dream is also expressed within this sentence: “A house all my own. A house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go” (108). This also show how desperately she wanted to get out of her financial poverty and make her dreams come true which in practical life did not disperse her from physical poverty; rather it turned into something else.

 Unfortunately this very aspiration or irrational demand of a ‘different’ life which was also quite unmanageable at the time, gave birth to several kinds of frustrations regarding her condition, social status and even with her name[6]. She thought that since her name resembles her grandmother’s, she will also have a life like hers. This has been stated in this assertion, “I have inherited her name, but I do not want to inherit her place by the window” (Cisneros 11). This shows that Esperanza thought that her name was very unlucky and how she wished to change her name and believed that it may bring a change to her luck and ultimately to her life. Thus a kind of hatred grew inside her which strengthened her determination to uproot her identity. In a nutshell, she wanted to evacuate her out of all to which she belonged, all that was within her blood and within Mango Street and this is also something she tried to accomplish through her writings[7].

Esperanza is not only a feminist subject but also a psychoanalytic one.  Speaking about dreams, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud said that “dream is an escape-hatch or safety-valve” (Barry 99), which means that Esperanza’s dream was an “escape-hatch”. Freudian analysis could term Esperanza’s tendency of writing as an act of ‘repression’ of ‘Defense Mechanisms’ which means “forgetting of unresolved conflicts, unadmitted[sic] desires, or traumatic past events, so that they are forced out of conscious awareness and into the realm of the conscious”(Barry 97).

This is again because Esperanza wrote to overlook or remove all those depressing memories that would torture her from time to time; “I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes” (Cisneros 110). This means she thought her writings could let Mango Street go away from her at least for a few moments; and that she will someday finally uproot herself. However, what happened in real sense?

           All these imaginations, her passions, social adversities and conflicting thoughts along with her frustrations ‘entombed’ her dreams in her maturity.  By the end of the novel, Esperanza had gone through all the difficulties that a female of a minority society could face. The young girl had already been colonized in every way possible: as a victim of racial injustice, cultural hybridity (family of mixed culture), patriarchal domination, sexual harassment and emotional torture. That is she was subject to multiple disadvantages. Naturally this Bildungsroman’s recount of the passage to adolescence is not very ordinary which finally made her search for ways through which she can be liberated. The end of the novel shows the conversion of the protagonist into a more mature and experienced person. She is no longer a pubescent girl with her childish beliefs. In her words, “I write it down and Mango Street says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free. I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever” (Cisneros 101), which showed her hidden grief. At the end of the novel, she was a changed person, a grown, mature woman. A person she never thought she could be. She became a new woman but not the one who wished to uproot her ‘real identity’ but the one who said, “I have gone to come back. For the ones who cannot out” (Cisneros 110). Finally, she realized that it is inside her, Mango Street was never a separate identity or a separate place, it will forever be inside her. The people with whom she grew up and lived were never detached from her.

                        Her determination was also shown by the critic Geoffrey Sanborn who said that “She promises to come back for the ones who cannot come out”[8]. She can never eliminate them completely from her memories because now she realized that no matter how much she wish to escape, the memories of the place called “Mango Street” will follow her wherever she goes. This is because her identity is as true and as rooted like those mango trees in her street. However, Cisneros never clearly said that she is out of her frustrations and disappointments and now she does not want to uproot herself. What was very clear about Esperanza is that, she was a grown woman who knew the differences between dream and reality.

To sum up, Esperanza can be addressed as a ‘torn out leaf’. This is because her mental conflict did not let her leave her identity nor change it. She knew it is something permanent in her life and will remain so till her death no matter where she wants to live. The fact is that a person, whether a girl or a boy, who had to suffer the way Esperanza or Cisneros has, is someone very unfortunate. Therefore, the most heart rendering part of the problem is, that the protagonist was trapped in her pubescent identity, which is again a very delicate stage of life. As a result due to all these social adversities, she had to dream something that she could not in such a tender age; a dream of a separate house, an independent life which slowly evoked the dreadful dream of even uprooting her identity which also revealed the author’s personal desire to some extent[9].

Therefore, this was also a very prominent part of the novel which made the researcher looked at the protagonist from both feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives. This is also because it is only mentioned that she wanted to come back for the persons who were trapped like the way she was which kept the everlasting inquiry alive in the readers’ minds; that whether she ‘could’ or ‘could not’ uproot her real identity from her innermost awareness. The controversy remained; whether she could accept (from heart) the harsh truth about her real identity or not. May be the author is still the little Esperanza; somewhere in her heart who is still searching for herself. This is of course because the novel never revealed any fact about what her ‘heart’ decided leaving its readers in the perpetual confusion.


[1] Cisneros’s biography by Julia Alvarez reveals a lot about her childhood sufferings.

[2]Harold, p.3.

[3] Ibid. , p.3.

[4] Cisneros’ novel shows different kinds of emotional and physical tortures faced by these girls.

[5] “Sexual politics” by Kate Millet; See also Simone De Beauvoir‘s “The second Sex”(1949) which talks about women rights.

[6]A full chapter on “My Name” (p 10-11) showing Esperanza’s Frustration.

[7] She used to write as a way to escape from her miseries showed in the last chapter of the book.

[8]Geoffrey Sanborn, “Keeping Her Distance”, pp. 1334-1348.

[9]Doyle, Jacqueline (Winter 1994), “More Room of Her Own(p 5-10)




Bibliography/ Work Citation

Barry, Peter, Beginning Theory. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print.

Bloom, Harold, “In Search of Identity in Cisneros’s The House On Mango Street”

Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations (2010): 3-10. Googlescholar. Web. 2nd Sep. 2011.

Cisneros, Sandra, The House On The Mango Street. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

Doyle, Jacqueline, “More room Of Her Own: Sandra Cisneros’s The House On Mango 

Street”, Melus 19.4(1994): 5-35. JSTOR.Web. 02 Sep. 2011

Robin, Ganz, “Sandra Cisneros: Border Crossings and Beyond”, Melus 19.1(1994): 19-29.JSTOR. Web. 3rd Dec. 2010

Sanborn, Geoffrey, “Keeping Her Distance: Cisneros, Dickinson, and the Politics of Private Enjoyment” Modern Language Association, 116.5 (2001): 1334-1348. JSTOR. Web. 20th Oct. 2011


Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: