Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rereading The House on Mango Street

            The first time I read The House on Mango Street, I was in the eighth grade. I was thirteen and still naïve, even though I thought I knew everything about the world already. I recall liking the book, and as an adolescent I could connect with the many “coming of age” themes that were featured within the many short stories within the novel. But when I picked this book up again during the summer, I found that I missed a lot of key points within the story. I began to see things that my younger self skipped over or simply erased because she couldn’t understand or relate to the experience. It was similar to the experience I had during freshman year, when a friend and I were discussing the book, Speak. I had read it in the fourth of fifth grade because an older family friend gave us a box full of her books when she went off to college. During the discussion my friend brought up the question, “Weren’t you a bit young for that?” I didn’t understand. When I read the book around age 11, I vaguely recalled a story about a girl who struggled in school, hated her teachers and peers, cried a lot, and was unfairly blamed after calling the cops at a party. What I didn’t realize however, was that Speak’s plot revolved around the protagonist getting raped. I liked the book, but I had not processed the entire story. In fact, I had missed its main point. Her actions (doing poorly in school, being suddenly introverted, and hating everyone around her) were due to her guilt and anger surrounding the incident (which was not explicitly mentioned but implied).
            When I picked up the book, The House on Mango Street, once more I opened my eyes to a multitude of things I failed to catch before. Here is an excerpt from the story, “The Family with Little Feet”

            “Them are dangerous, he says. You girls too young to be wearing shoes like that. Take them shoes off before I call the cops, but we just run.
            On the avenue a boy on a homemade bicycle calls out:
Ladies, lead me to heaven.
            But there is nobody around but us.
            Do you like these shoes? Rachel says yes, and Lucy says yes, and yes, I say, these are the best shoes. We will never go back to wearing the other kind again. Do you like these shoes?”  (Cisneros 41)

            At age 14, I thought the story was playful, entertaining, and rather humorous. These young girls (who were probably around my age or a bit younger) walked down the street in pretty high heels like they were at the top of the world. At age 14, I didn’t see the harm in doing so. I thought the man who warned them by saying that they were “too young to be wearing shoes like that” was just jealous and too old to relate. But now I see why Sandra Cisneros chose to add these minor characters and pieces of little dialogue. The House on Mango Street is told from the perspective of a young girl, and so often, even darker experiences are told from an innocent, naïve point of view. Keeping the dialogue of older, more experienced characters within the story helps the reader understand the situation more clearly. They reveal the intentions and opinions of the people on Mango Street, the adults (and or society). And the way these serious topics are addressed so casually and off-handedly by minor characters is jarring. It leaves us feeling concerned, uncomfortable, and slightly scared for the young girl who knows very little about the world. Older audiences are able to see the sexualization of the young girls and the objectivity that sometimes comes with being female. And so when the boy calls out, “Ladies, lead me to heaven” we know that the girls shouldn’t be flattered like they are in the story. They should be scared and slightly creeped out that the boy is checking them out and viewing them that way. 

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