In the bildungsroman The House on Mango Street, there are many traumatic experiences to children, and childhood is seen as a time of tribulation and terror, at least through the eyes of Esperanza. Children, especially girls, are treated unfairly, and their key objective is to get married and move out of their mother’s houses. This unfairness is largely due to the stereotype of gender and the terrorizing that child marriage brings to children is largely harmful to development.
The House on Mango Street has many instances of unfair pressure to get married or talk to the opposite sex and such. Instances of the children being terrorized are reflected by Experanza’s maturing thought process, which indicates that she is growing up. The House on Mango Street may depict childhood as a time of joy, innocence, and playfulness, although after greater analysis the book shows how the process of growing up in a negative environment can be damaging to development as Esperanza, her sisters, and the rest of the children on Mango Street deal with physical and sexual assault, child marriage and will realize that her experiences on Mango Street will haunt her along with them all forever.
Physical and sexual assault can be seen in multiple circumstances in The House of Mango Street, which are traumatic experiences to face in childhood. There is workplace harassment as the protagonist tries to seek her first job. “…he said it was his birthday and would I please give him a birthday kiss. I thought I would because he was so old and just as I was about to put my lips on his cheek, he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn’t let go.” (Cisneros 55)
When Esperanza is seeking a job, she meets with people outside of her age group. She does not feel comfortable taking lunch with the other older workers until a man attempts to sweet talk with her, followed by offering her to have lunch together. In the end, the man claims it is his birthday and wants a birthday kiss on the cheek, but he restrains her and kisses her on the mouth. This is an example of how workplace ethics and child safety are disobeyed in The House on Mango Street. Sexual assault happens even with just young males, such as when Esperanza and Sally go to meet some boys, some of whom physically restrain Esperanza and sexually assault her; this poses the question as to why Sally did not mind this mistreatment. “Why didn’t you tell them to leave me alone? The one who grabbed me by the arm, he wouldn’t let me go.
He said I love you, Spanish girl, I love you, and pressed his sour mouth to mine.” (Cisneros 100) In the phrase, the new boy physically restrains Esperanza and sexually assaults her. Esperanza also stated,“Where he touched me. I didn’t want it, Sally.” (Cisneros 99) to reinforce that Esperanza did not enjoy nor favour the sexual harassment and attention she received towards her body. Throughout the time in which Esperanza is assaulted, Esperanza stated that Sally was taken somewhere by a ‘big boy’, and didn’t come back for her, implying that she was likely enjoying the boy’s company by not paying attention to Esperanza. This can be devastating to a young girl like Esperanza’s mental well-being as she could isolate herself or have a phobia of boys due to this incident. Sexual and physical assault can gravely put a toll on a child’s health and mental stability. Sexual assault in The House on Mango Street undoubtedly terrorizes Esperanza’s childhood, which ties into the next point, child marriage.
Additionally, child marriage is a large factor in the lives of the young girls in The House on Mango Street, and undoubtedly ruins the childrens’ innocence and development. Child marriage can brutally impact the brain, especially in the case of Minerva, whose husband keeps leaving and physically abusing her.
“One day she is through and lets him know enough is enough. Out the door he goes. … But that night he comes back and sends a big rock through the window. Then he is sorry and she opens the door again.” (Cisneros 85) Minerva has to face the heart-wrenching experience of her husband’s absence, which considering the couple’s continuous arguments, can be harmful to health. The husband throws a rock at Minerva through the window, suggesting that her life is harsh and abusive. The vignette also emphasizes that Minerva is only a little bit older than Esperanza, and has two kids, which means her education and such would be seriously halted. In The House on Mango Street, child marriage is seen as an opportunity to leave the individual’s nurtured house.
There is also an unfair pressure on the appearances of young girls. “I am an ugly daughter. I am the one nobody comes for. Nenny says she won’t wait her whole life for a husband to come and get her… and it’s easy to talk that way if you are pretty.” (Cisneros 88) Esperanza downgrades herself, claiming to be an ‘ugly daughter’ and no man would come to take her as their wife. She recognizes her sister’s elevated beauty, and may have some jealousy as Nenny can pick almost any husband. These emotions of jealousy, regret, and shame are malignant to the protagonist’s development and ideas. The disgrace of not being able to choose a husband would be a heavy burden on her too. Though on Mango Street, child marriage is culturally seen as a way to escape from home, it puts an unfair pressure on the ‘ugly girls’ and will significantly impact Esperanza’s memories.
Although Esperanza’s stay at Mango Street is ‘temporary’, she will most likely realize that her experiences surrounding abuse and death will change her ideas and childhood forever. The poorer socioeconomic status in the neighborhood of Mango Street shows us that there are many traumatic experiences such as Esperanza and her father dealing with the death of a loved one back at home. “Your abuelito is dead, Papa says early one morning in my room. Está muerto, and then as if he just heard the news himself, crumples like a coat and cries, my brave Papa cries. I have never seen my Papa cry and don’t know what to do.”(Cisneros 56) The people on Mango Street are seemingly from a poor Hispanic status, which really causes a lot of burden back home.
A prime example was the passage when Esperanza’s father tells her that her abuelito has passed away. Esperanza also has to deal with seeing her father cry for the first time, which can be distressing at an early age. For individuals such as Rafaela, their childhood will never be the same as they are ‘too pretty’, which poses the question of why the children chose to give up their childhood at such young ages. “And then Rafaela, who is still young, but getting old from leaning out the window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since she is too beautiful to look at.” (Cisneros 79)
Rafaela will never remember her childhood; though she is young, she is locked up in her house. This means that she loses her joyfulness and sense of wonder for what is going on in the outside world, or in other words, her childlike character. Esperanza will remember Rafaela’s story when she is making her own life decisions, meaning it will scar her (in the context of being afraid of being locked up). The experiences of Mango Street will haunt Esperanza for the rest of her life, and other people’s experiences will too.
Though The House on Mango Street may depict childhood as times of play and wonder, after viewing instances of childhood trauma, it can be finalized that the children of Mango Street have to deal with assault, child marriages, and certainly the unfavourable experiences that would affect her decisions and ideas. Sexual and physical assault traumatize children, and on Mango Street, the assaults traumatize childhood. Another contributor to the terror and assault is child marriage, which takes away the wonders and innocence, which can lead to abuse, as depicted in The House on Mango Street. All of these experiences at Mango Street will most likely continue in Esperanza’s memories, and the experiences of others will affect her decision and thought-making processes. Childhood may be ruined and terrorized in The House on Mango Street, but are there any of the same effects on the children in our society?