Critical Assessment

“I opened the book and started to read. Suddenly, Cisneros’ narrator, Esperanza, jumped out from somewhere between the pages, grabbed me tight, shook me hard, and wouldn’t let go. I read the whole book in two hours and had to read it again. And then again. Even when I finally put the book back on my shelf, I just couldn’t get that voice out of my head. . . .

“Cisneros’ writing is poetry, and her characters speak a kind of poetic dialogue that I haven’t heard since Shakespeare moved out of the hood. In speaking of poetry, Georgia Heard pointed out that ‘beautiful music and rhythm alone do not make a poem. We also need to speak the truth. We hope to express significant meaning and feeling through our words; we want our poems to make people think’ . . . . This is exactly how the narrative style of Mango Street works.”

Thomas F. O’Malley, “A Ride Down Mango Street,” The English Journal, December 1997.

First Excerpt

“They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them. Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine. Four who do not belong here but are here. Four raggedy excuses planted by the city. From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn’t appreciate these things.

“Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep.

“Let one forget his reason for being, they’d all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around the other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.

“When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be.”

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Second Excerpt

“Sally went behind that old blue pickup to kiss the boys and get her keys back, and I ran up three flights of stairs to where Tito lived. His mother was ironing shirts. She was sprinkling water on them from an empty pop bottle and smoking a cigarette.

“Your son and his friends stole Sally’s keys and now they won’t give them back unless she kisses them and right now they’re making her kiss them, I said all out of breath from the three flights of stairs.

“Those kids, she said, not looking up from her ironing.

“That’s all?

“What do you want me to do, she said, call the cops? And kept on ironing.

“I looked at her a long time, but couldn’t think of anything to say, and ran back down the three flights to the garden where Sally needed to be saved. I took three big sticks and a brick and figured this was enough.

“But when I got there Sally said go home. Those boys said leave us alone. I felt stupid with my brick. They all looked at me as if I was the one that was crazy and made me feel ashamed.

“And then I don’t know why but I had to run away. I had to hide myself at the other end of the garden, in the jungle part, under a tree that wouldn’t mind if I lay down and cried a long time.”