Tips for Teaching Sandra Cisneros’s
The House On Mango Street
Compiled by Jenny Counts, 2000
Adolescent Literature with Dr. Barbara Stanford at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
About Sandra Cisneros
A basic biography site. This page contains facts on Sandra Cisneros, her background, education, awards and honors, and an essay about her life history and her purpose in her books.
This is an article from Publishers Weekly about Cisneros. Cisneros was interviewed for the article so there is some first-hand information about her motivation in writing her stories. There is information behind the title of The House On Mango Street and why a house is significant to both her character Esperanza and to Cisneros herself. It also gives some biographical history.
Teaching The House On Mango Street
This site provides teachers with a resource for vocabulary words specifically for The House On Mango Street. These words are on a high school level and would be great preparation for college bound students who must take the SAT or the ACT.
This site offers an essay about The House On Mango Street and a lesson plan. The author of the essay, Carol Poppleton, suggests using this book in an ESL classroom to have students learn the depth and beauty of the English language to evoke specific emotions through image. This lesson was geared toward a college class, but can be modified for high school.
This is a great comprehensive teaching guide for Mango Street by Random House, complete with a Note To Teachers and discussion questions for every chapter.
Excellent source for all kinds of information about Cisneros and The House On Mango Street. Includes a message board.
Great source! Includes lesson plans, reviews, bibliography, interview with Cisneros, and ERIC resources.
The Hispanic-American Culture
Hispanic Online is a web-zine for Hispanics. It contains current events, social articles, and book reviews for Latinos as well as other links to other Latino websites.
Teachers beginning a unit on Cisneros and Hispanic-American culture will find this site useful since it contains links to biographical information, reviews, professional resources, and Hispanic culture, including cuisine and folklore.
Links to Hispanic-American authors, biographies, and literary criticism.
Brief summaries and grade recommendations of Latino-American literature. Site also includes book recommendations for other cultures.
Map to Mango Ave.
A map of where Chicago is and a map of Mango Ave. in Chicago
Why teach The House On Mango Street?
The House On Mango Street is both an easy book and a complex book. It is written on an eighth to ninth grade reading level according to the Fry Readability Chart, but Cisneros’s style of highly poetic images and non-definable plot make the book complex for most ninth grade readers who may not understand the lack of definable plot. It is this complexity which offers an excellent opportunity for English teachers of the tenth asnd eleventh grades to teach the literary concepts of style and language and to allow students to discover another culture and another perspective through literature.
Cisneros paints through language a beautiful picture of a Chicano-American girl growing up in Chicago, Illinois. Esperanza is a girl caught in the middle. She is a Hispanic-American pulled by both her Mexican heritage and her American lifestyle; and she is a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Being trapped between four worlds leads Esperanza to feel a sense of displacement. She is neither fully Mexican nor fully American, neither a child nor an adult. Where does she belong? This is a main theme in this novel, and a concern of most teens.
Like adolescents, Esperanza longs for a place to belong. She dreams of a house and a room that is all her own, a place to which she belongs. It is as Esperanza pulls away from Mango Street that she realizes that she is a part of Mango Street and will never be able to spiritually or emotionally leave. The two have made an impact on one another, and so will always be tied together.
The book is a collection of vignettes about Esperanza when she lived on Mango Street, and they offer snapshots of Esperanza’s mind through vivid language and image. There is a picture of a budding young woman in “Hips,” where Esperanza says, “ On day you wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where?” Uncertain of this new change in her body, Esperanza and her friends discuss the purpose of hips, which they decide are good for holding babies and for dancing. In “Papa who wakes up tired in the dark” Esperanza contemplates death and love, “And I think if my own Papa died what would I do. I would hold my Papa in my arms. I hold and hold and hold him.” The vignettes reflect Esperanza’s life and her concerns, and they are layered upon each other to build a sense of dis-connection. She is not fully connected to her Mexican heritage nor is she fully connected to her American culture. By teaching how Cisneros uses this technique to students, they can begin to see how an author uses style to create a specific mood, tone, or theme.
The House On Mango Street is a window into a Hispanic-American family. Students will be able to see the struggle for identity and a place to belong, a struggle they themselves face, that many ethnic Americans face. They will also begin to understand the differences cultures in both the family unit and neighborhood unit and in values, beliefs, and customs. Esperanza’s culture is more involved in spiritual elements. For example, In “Elinita, Cards, Palm, Water” shows the deep belief in Esperanza’s culture of fortune telling and fate, an aspect that Esperanza, caught between two cultures, is unsure of, as Elinita, witch woman, asks Esperanza if she can see anything in a glass of water:
“Look in it, do you see anything?
But all I see are bubbles.
You see anybody’s face?
Nope, just bubbles, I say.
That’s okay, and she makes the sign of the cross over the water three times an then begins to cut the cards.”
In “The Three Sisters” the belief in fate and fortune telling is again confronted by Esperanze. At a funeral three sisters, who seem to represent the Three Fates of Greek mythology, look at Esperanza’s hands and seem to see something in them:
“Look at her hands, cat-eyed said.
And they turned them over and over as if they were looking for something.
Yes, she’ll go very far.”
After their predictions, they seem to vanish like smoke—“I didn’t understand everything they had told me. I turned around. They smiled and waved in their smoky way. Then I didn’t see them. Not once, or twice, or ever again.” With wispy language Cisneros tells of these spiritual or mystical encounters, making them real for the reader outside of the culture.
This book is very rich in things to teach, discuss, and explore on both a literary and a cultural level. It offers insight into another perspective and culture inside America, a culture that is growing daily in the United States. It shows adolescents that everyone, whether Anglo, Hispanic, or other, desires a place to belong and an identity. Mango Street is a quick read, only 110 pages, on an easy reading level, yet is complex enough for high school. It is excellent for teaching how an author’s style and structure of the text sets a tone or develops a theme. And, for the ESL classroom, it shows the depth and beauty of the English language through the poetic images created by Cisneros. It is enjoyable, rich in language, beautiful, and relevant to students and their struggle to belong making it good choice for a high school literature class.