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For teenagers, the aging process, that is the human experience of growing older, is important. The theme in Sandra Cisneros’ novel The House on Mango Street is coming of age/ growing up. And how Chicago represented in the novel’s setting is problematic for the coming of age protagonist. The theme is not clear in the novel but can be understood only by the reader’s filling in the gaps.
One of the themes is coming of age, which is apparent in how the narrator, Esperanza, sees herself and her surrounding. In the chapter “Boys and Girls”, the narrator says: “The boys and girls live in separate worlds.” (8). The protagonist refers to herself and the people close to her as “boys and girls”, which indicates that she sees herself as a girl and not as an adolescent. The book is a first-person narrative with a protagonist as the narrator. This limits our observation to what the protagonist thinks, which can be a biased view. It is impossible to know the exact age of the protagonist because no age indications are to be found. Therefore, the reader has to fill in the gaps by close reading. The use of the nouns “boys” and “girls” draws the conclusion that the protagonist is a child. Later on in the book, the protagonist also begins to work at her first job in the chapter “The First job”: “I thought I’d find an easy job, the kind other kids had,… ” (53). Here, the protagonist uses another noun to refer to herself, “kids”, which is used for people who are between childhood and adolescence. Also, she begins to work which indicates that she begins to come of age. In the chapter called “The Monkey Garden”, the protagonist is growing up and leaving childhood: “ the garden that had been such a good place to play didn’t seem mine either.” (98). The choice of verb tense tells us that Esperanza has played in the garden in the past, but not anymore. She feels like a stranger because of her coming of age. In the next to last chapter, “A House of My Own”, the protagonist has gone from a little girl, who wished for a friend of her own, began to be attracted to the opposite sex and got her first work, to own a house of her own, where we truly see her coming of age.
The book also shows how difficult and dangerous it can be to grow up in Chicago as a girl. In the chapter called “Red Clowns”, once again there are many gaps to fill in. The chapter starts with a very horrible setting: “Sally, you lied. It wasn’t what you said at all. What he did. Where he touched me. I didn’t want it, Sally.” (99). Furthermore, she said: “Sally, make him stop.” and “All the books and magazines, everything that told it wrong.” (100). By interpreting this event, we can conclude it is sexual abuse due to the fact that the protagonist has entered adolescence, developed an interest in her body and the opposite sex, and also the man touches her and the wish for him to stop. She had imagined how it would be to have sex by reading books and magazines, but sometimes, what books and magazines show does not match with reality.