In too, born like me in the Chinese year

In the novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Esperanza Cordero
struggles growing up in an impoverished environment where she is constantly
being undermined for her sexuality. She wants to escape her life on Mango
Street which is subdued within Mexican culture, trapping women in gender
discrimination which is also closely related to racism and classism throughout
the novel (Kaye 1). Sally, a “promiscuous” girl wants to escape beatings from
her father only to end up getting beaten by her husband, while, Esperanza
escapes her life traumatic rape through her writing and support from her
father. Esperanza and Sally have an extremely similar upbringing and the
different treatments they receive from the men in their lives dictate their
futures, leading Sally to hardship and Esperanza to independence. Esperanza is
able to break away from the tradition she is raised in, arriving at a more
gender fluid identity because she experiences the exploitation of women in the
vicious cycle of an impoverished environment.

            Cisneros
speaks of the female identity within Mexican culture and the struggles of
living

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in a hyper-masculine heteronormative
box, making misogyny acceptable. For example, in the novel Esperanza references
her grandmother’s life and her struggle, saying she does not want to live the
life she did. Esperanza says, “She was a horse woman too, born like me in the
Chinese year of the horse – which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born
female – but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the
Mexicans, don’t like their women strong” (Cisneros 10). Esperanza is seen
rejecting this ideal in her society even though it is one of many to come in
the following year. She learns that gender roles are culturally created because
of her experiences and begins questioning her place as a second-class citizen.
Later on in the chapter My Name, Esperanza describes her
great-grandmother’s forced marriage to a man who “threw a sack over head and
carried her off… as if she were a fancy chandelier… She looked out the window
her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow …
Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by
the window (Cisneros 11). Esperanza is willing to express her hatred for the
wrongs not just within her community but in her family and by doing so, she is
understanding the strife caused by gender roles. She realizes that poverty and
the lack of education is the center of oppression and decides she will reject
that life for herself.

            Esperanza
eventually befriends a sexually promiscuous girl named Sally and gets raped
because rape culture is idolized by both Sally and Sally’s soon to be husband.
For example, Sally is physically and emotionally abused by her father and
because has never received love from a male figure at home, she has a desire
for love from a man, no matter what kind of love it is. When Esperanza is
waiting for Sally she gets raped while Sally is entertaining boys (Cisneros
97). Sally indirectly is contributing to society’s idea of rape culture because
of her upbringing by abusive men. Jean Wyatt, a women’s literature scholar,
discusses in her article “On Not Being La Malinche”, about rape. She says that
in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s
rape is unjustly treated by the people surrounding her with a “lack of agency
together with guilt” (Wyatt 248) and this is all because Esperanza does get
support from the women or men in her life after she is raped. Rape is often
times ignored because both Sally and the boys who raped Esperanza do not value
female consent. However, Esperanza’s rape allows her to remove all people who
negatively impact her life, including Sally who ends up living life her
grandmother did.

            Some argue that Esperanza becomes
even more secluded in the novel because her experiences of sexual assault and
abandonment by women in her life have made her not trust neither men and women.
For example, some writers argue that Esperanza learns that most women do not
fulfill their responsibilities of protecting each other and are subject to
being alone (Kaye 4). They also argue that Esperanza only fantasizes about
leaving Mango Street and does not actually leave it is only implied and she
does not actually speak out about her rape to any men in her life. However,
this is untrue because in the final moments of the novel, Esperanza decides she
will be that beacon of light for women who experience sexual and gender abuse
because no one stood with her. In the ending Esperanza speaks of how people
will question where she has gone when she leaves Mango Street. Esperanza says,
“They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind.
For the ones who cannot get out” (Cisneros 110). Esperanza may be fantasizing
about the future but her dreams alone are her breaking the gender gap and
developing a stronger sense of empowerment.

            Esperanza’s
experience differs from Sally, who marries a man who is abusive both
emotionally and physically, while Esperanza breaks the traditional gender roles
which have always left little room for her female self-identification. Both
girls are raised in the same neighborhood yet have two different outcomes in
their lives because of their fathers. Sally ends up living like Esperanza’s
grandmother did staring out the window. Esperanza breaks away from her trauma
by embracing her ability to write and express herself through it and Sally
searches for fulfillment from men because she never received her father’s love.
Esperanza does break gender barriers because even though she has not escaped
Mango Street, she has already rejected the barriers men have tried putting on
her. 

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