Shoes Symbolism In ”The House On The Mango Street” By Sandra Cisnero
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Sandra Cisneros was an American and a Mexican author. She was the only girl in a family of seven, something which led to her much loneliness. This drove her to the hobby of reading as well as frequent movements between Chicago and Mexican city. She started writing back in high school, which came as a result of her admiration of the poets she knew then. She attended the University of Iowa, and also the Loyola University. She she later worked at Chicano which was in Chicago, as a teacher of the high school dropouts, and also as an administrative assistant. It was through these jobs that she understood the problems experienced by the young Latinos, and this gave her the inspiration to write this novel. (Tusmith 3).
The house on the mango street is based on Esperanza, a character whose name is allegorical and which means “hope”. She is a poor teenager, and a Latina who longs for freedom and a house of her own. She appears to be confused as an adolescent, and torn between the decisions of education over marriage. At the same time, she wants to achieve her liberation through writing. Esperanza struggles with the difficulties of growing up in “Mango Street” which is poor neighborhood in Chicago. Cisneros explores on many themes in her work, which she manages to bring out well by employing symbolism in her novel. (Tusmith 168).
Symbolism is the art of using symbols especially through use of things which have a symbolic meaning. It is also done by expressing the intangible through the use of the visible representations with an aim of passing certain message, through that symbol. Symbols can be colors, objects, figures, characters or any other thing depending on the abstract concept the author wants to represent Cisneros uses symbols to represent complex ideas in the novel, and also to support the themes and motifs she has. She employs different symbols, but I shall dwell on the analysis of “shoes” symbol in the novel. (Whitehead 11)
In the house on Mango Street, shoes are used to evoke the images of adult femininity and sex. They are used to emphasize on the conflict which exists between her coming up beauty and the yearning for her independence. For the first time, she makes the relationship between sex and her shoes, when she tries to wear some high-heeled shoes with her friends: Lucy and Rachel, and shoes which they had been given by a neighbor. When they wore the shoes, their ugly “scarred, childish feet” and legs become transformed into those slim and long women’s feet. The male neighbors are not pleased with the behavior, because this was something they had started as a game for childhood, and now it had turned to be something dangerous for them. (Chesla 101)
Cisneros uses this symbol as away of enhancing the theme of coming of age through sexuality vs. autonomy. Esperanza’s goals are clearly depicted in the novel. She yearns for escape to go and stay in a place of her own. At the same time, she has begun to be a mature girl, and she is engulfed by the male desire, which dominates her thoughts. The desire and goals seem to conflict, because after observing the married women, she learns that they are bound by their marriages. She then begins to feel that what she desires to do cannot work for her. Esperanza yearns for the neighborhood boys but she does not want to get married, neither have children. (Chesla 102)
In the afternoon of the same day they wore the borrowed shoes, Esperanza and her friends abandon them. They claim that the shoes bored them. They now appear like children again after shedding the attractiveness they had acquired. This symbolizes the way Esperanza and her friends aspire to be like the super women they see around, through borrowing the behaviors from them, but which they cannot manage. They then end up abandoning their wishes and go back to their original way of life. However, Esperanza cannot do away with the shoes when they appear again, because she knows that they add to her beauty and attractiveness. She manages to get a new dress, which she wears at a certain dance, together with some brown saddles. Several men nag her for a dance, but she denies it because she is very conscious on the kind of shoes she is wearing. “Worn out and for a little kid.” Esperanza is always keen on women at her neighborhood and at the same time she is possessed with the myths of adolescence and sexuality superstitions. She wants to be “beautiful and cruel” such that men would not hurt her, but will love her. By doing so, she is trying to combine autonomy with sexuality, to appear like sally, a mature friend she intends to befriend. She also wants to be like the women she sees in movies. “They bloom like roses, I continue because it’s obvious I am the only one who can speak with any authority, I have science on my side. The bones just open. Just like that. One day you might decide to have kids, and then where are you going to put them? Got to have room. Bones got to give.” That was Esperanza’s notion. (Cisneros 50)
Esperanza discovers that boys stare at her shoes at the dance. She chose to dance with her uncle, after turning down many requests from the men. On a different note Esperanza admires sally’s shoes which she describes as “black suede”, and she wants to convince her mother to buy such for her, though she is not sure whether she would succeed. This is symbolism of how Esperanza admires the ways of sally whom she sees leading a good life. Esperanza is abandoned by sally at the garden, because sally wants to flirt with men. All what Esperanza thinks is; her feet are ugly. “I looked at my feet in their white socks and ugly round shoes. They seemed far away. They did not seem to be mine anymore. And the garden that had been such a good place to play did not seem mine either.”(Cisneros 98)
This character struggles a lot with identity. She is even ashamed of where she lives, because that is not her dream home. She describes it as; “small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you would think they were holding their breath. Bricks are crumbling in places, and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in.” All what Esperanza wants to be is a decent lady, with a good apartment, but poverty limits her dreams. “Everything is holding its breath inside me. Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to be all new and shiny. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt… not every evening talking to the trees, leaning out my window imagining what I cannot see.” (Cisneros 73)
Shoes appear to be some source of decency to Esperanza. But when she is sexually assaulted, she realizes that it is really hard to be cruel and beautiful in a society like this, which is dominated by men. She realizes that having relationships with men in her neighborhood would not help her to gain any independence. “I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am one who leaves the table like a man without putting back the chair or packing up the plate.”(89) But another warning surprised Esperanza, “a circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. Always on Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are….it was as if she could read my mind, as if she knew what I wished for, I felt ashamed for having made such a selfish wish.”(105) (Tusmith 168)
Esperanza had to put aside the sexual awareness which she had newly found, to join her friends she had abandoned; Rachel and Lucy, whom she had felt to be less mature, hence her befriending of sally. Just as they abandoned the borrowed shoes, she abandons the issue of boys, and opted to spend much time on writing. At the same time she goes for autonomy, instead of sexuality, which later gives her a chance to escape. She says; “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point at. But this is not it. The house on Mango Street is not it. For the time being, mama says. Temporally, says papa. But I know how those things go.”(5) (Tusmith168)
Esperanza always wanted to borrow new ideas and behave differently. She wanted to create a new picture of herself through sexuality. Cisneros uses the symbolism of shoes to show how this girl wants to be different, from looks, to even acquiring a home of her own. This revolves around the motif of identity search and definition. But later Esperanza realizes that it was not a good idea to detach herself from the neighborhood and her family relations. This is the reason as to why she stops forcing her sexuality. She also abandons the idea of changing her name. All this came after she was assaulted, an act which made her feel demoralized. She says “they will not know I have gone far away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who count.” (Cisneros 134)
To conclude, I can say that, Cisneros wrote, drawing back to her childhood experiences, and her ethnicity. Her book explores on the suppression of cultural minorities in America, and how they struggled to attain some identity. Mama Cordero is the typical example of the women in America, whose lives are dictated by many things. She reveals to Esperanza that she was born on an evil day, but she would pray for her. “Most likely, I will go to hell…mother says I was born on an evil day and prays for me. Lucy and Rachel pray too. For ourselves and for each other….” (58). The author embarks on this symbolism to portray the cost of identity search in a pluralistic society. She finally shows how Esperanza accepts herself and her position in the community. All borrowed mannerisms could not last, and she settles down as a writer, after interacting with other writers and knowing that writing was more helpful. She realized that it would help her achieve her goals and desires later in her life, and that she would be able to move from Mango Street emotionally and physically. It can be said to be a powerful novel, rich in symbolism. (Whitehead 81)
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