The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson harmonize well. These novels follow girls of color growing into women, through a series of memories that manifest as vignettes. Beyond that, both books are fantastic explorations of the bonds girls form with each other and female sexuality. I will be focusing on how the authors tackle the relationships the girls have with their mothers, and how that effects their lives going forward.
The House on Mango Street is aptly named, as it takes place on the fictional Mango Street in Chicago. We follow Esperanza, an adolescent Latina girl who feels restless. She is aching to leave her house, to have a home of her own, and to become her own person. Another Brooklyn focuses on August, a thirty-something black woman whose childhood memories wash over her when she sees an old friend on the subway. She is mentally transported back to the Brooklyn of the 1970s, where she grew up with her brother and father. Each girl makes friends with other young girls from the neighborhood, and grow through these friendships. But before all of that, their mothers had already begun socializing them.
Mothers are the first agent of socialization for their children and in this case specifically, their daughters. Meaning, their daughters learned what being raised as a woman meant, and how to express these ideals in the world. Esperanza’s and August’s perception of the world was shaped by their mothers’, whether that be positive or negative.
Esperanza has a loving relationship with her mother, and she fosters her dreams of leaving Mango Street. In the vignette "Smart Cookie" she laments, “I could’ve been somebody, you know? Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard. That Madame Butterfly was a fool,” (Cisneros 91). Her mother wants Esperanza to purse an education over romantic relationships, as her allusion to Madame Butterfly explains (in the opera Madame Butterfly is a Japanese geisha who falls in love with an American soldier. When he leaves her and never returns, she commits suicide). Esperanza’s mother also represents safety. We explicitly see this in the vignette "Hairs" where Esperanza says, “my mother’s hair…sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe” (Cisneros 6). Her mother is a constant presence in her life, and is largely a positive influence. Other women and mothers paint a negative picture of marriage and romantic love for Esperanza, and this too influences her outlook on life. Her observation of the many unhappy marriages on Mango Street make her weary of pursuing her own one day.
August’s relationship to her mother is much more tumultuous. Her mother grappled with mental illness once her Uncle Clyde was killed in the Vietnam War. This, understandably, made it difficult for her to be a good support system for August. At eight years old, August’s father took her away from her mother in Tennessee and moved to Brooklyn. August believed that her mother was going to arrive in Brooklyn to be with them soon, but she died sometime around their move. It is obvious that August longs for that relationship, and doesn’t even fully heal from her loss until much later in life. August’s mother had a lasting impact on her, and taught her things that would have a negative effect on her relationships. August was taught that “women weren’t to be trusted;” (Woodson 19) and that “even the ugly ones would take what you thought was yours” (Woodson 41). Even though August formed a wonderful friendship with Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia, when they all “betrayed” her she did not make the effort to get them back. Gigi and Angela both left her behind: Gigi when she committed suicide and Angela when she literally disappeared after her own mother passed away. Most of all, when Sylvia became pregnant by August’s ex-boyfriend, August felt so strongly betrayed that she abandoned her. To August, all of her friends betrayed her, whether they meant to or not, and this proved her mother’s theory that she should keep them at a distance.
Cisneros’ and Woodson’s exploration of the mother-daughter relationship in their respective books was compelling. August and Esperanza absorbed their mother’s ideals, and they had a lasting influence. There is not one perfect way to raise children. It is through these novels that we can explore the facets of mothering, and how mothers impact their daughters in ways they might not even realize.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. 2nd ed., Vintage Books, 2009.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Another Brooklyn. HarperCollins, 2016.