In Sandra Cisneros’s novel The House on Mango Street (1984), we meet our protagonist/narrator Esperanza and witness her coming of age. A popular text among educators and casual readers alike, critics struggle to classify the novel. A general consensus stands that it can be classified as a bildungsroman, but there is also a debate concerning the subject matter and whether it is appropriate for young readers. Should we classify it as children’s literature simply because a child is the protagonist? Is it adult literature because of the adult subject matter? The intersection of the reality of Esperanza’s implied age (an exact age is never provided but her adolescent age has been inferred) is endemic of the necessity of these conversations. Childhood is after all not a monolith of experience but one that varies exponentially among culture and region. Strict consideration of literary conventions is a problematic approach and The House on Mango Street deconstructs them. My project is not to discredit one form or to elevate one over the other but to posit a new form and reading to add to the already expansive list of critical readings of the text a fairy-tale.
Fairy tale conventions appear within individual vignettes, and Cisneros makes connections between mythical tribulations and the real-world traumas with mythic proportions. I aim to examine Cisneros’s engagement with the fairy tale form, not just the breadth but also the significance as endemic of an intersection of literary genre. Considering genre is important to understanding how Esperanza comes of age and what she is coming into. The novel has appeal across age and genre. Like the fairy tale, Mango Street transcends convention because of and in response to social conditions. Fairy tales, though often relegated to children’s literature maintain significance throughout adulthood. The House on Mango Street is not a typical fairy tale, however. Cisneros uses the conventions in order to critique the disproportionate fantasies and expectations of femininity offered in fairy tales, challenging the genre and its portrayal of young girls and proposing methods of survival. Despite a plethora of fairy tale allusions, none are more prominent in the novella as the 510B designation according to the Aarne-Thompson classification of folk tales. That classification encompasses stories of the persecuted heroine and unnatural love and as a test subject will read Mango Street along with the Grimm’s “All Fur.”
Critics consider The House on Mango Street as a feminist text. Cisneros dedicates the novel “a las mujeres,” in English “to the women.” Women are the subject and object of the text; we view that objectification and the subsequent struggle for subjectivity through the lives of the women who live on Mango Street. In her article “Feminism and Fairy Tales,” critic Karen E. Rowe writes presents a critical argument against reading fairy tales as feminist. Rowe’s essay does not stand the test of time, particularly when it comes to fairy tale retellings. In her article published in 1979, Rowe asserts that fairy tales “glorify, passivity, dependency, and self-sacrifice as a heroine’s cardinal virtues” which suggests “that culture’s very survival depends upon a woman’s acceptance of roles which relegate her to motherhood and domesticity” (239). Ultimately, fairy tales rob their heroines and subsequently their female readers of their agency (Rowe 247). Liberated thinkers must therefore reject fairy tales as something that belongs in the past. I find Rowe’s conclusions interesting in light of the feminist retellings being produced contemporaneously to this essay, namely Ann Sexton’s Transformation and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Cisneros publishes Mango Street five years after Rowe publishes her essay, in the midst of this debate concerning feminism and fairy tales. The fairy tale retelling is a response to the assertion that fairy tales cannot be feminist.
In order to accomplish my analysis of The House on Mango Street as feminist, fairy tale retelling, I will embark on a new-formalist reading. New formalism as explained by Caroline Levine in her book Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy Network (2015) seeks to redefine traditional formalism and consider a formalism that considers aesthetics as well as politics. She writes, “the primary goal of this formalism is radical social change” (Levine 18). This social change can be found by studying forms and their affordances. The affordances of form encapsulate what forms are “capable” of doing (Levine 6). Traditionally, forms are considered independently of one another but Levine urges us to consider them in tandem, in concert. The usual definition of forms must be expanded to include “patterns of sociopolitical experience” (Levine 18). She continues writing that there is no “politics without form” (Levine 3). She advocates, “all politics, including revolutionary political action, will succeed only if it is canny about deploying multiple forms” (Levine 18). In literary criticism critics “have to take stock of the social and historical conditions that surround the work’s production” and “connect the novel’s forms to its social world” (Levine 1). As theorists we undertake this project by considering a work’s whole, rhythm, hierarchy, and network. Cisneros engages with the affordances of the fairy tale form in order to offer commentary on both the form and the necessity of that form.
Fairy tales are replete with monsters, dragons, and boogeymen that hide in caves and homes preying on good little girls and boys. We read them because of the assurance that in the end, the dragons will be slain. The dragons that plague Mango Street don’t fly, or breathe fire, or guard treasure troves. Instead, these dragons keep young girls like Esperanza trapped and expose them to sexual violence and manipulation, keeping women of all ages as girls touched with shame, exploitation, and abuse. The dragons prowl through Mango Street wreaking emotional havoc and destruction. Esperanza comes of age amidst dragons and monsters. Ultimately, The House on Mango Street is a conflation of a bildungsroman and fairy-tale retelling.
Adapting to the Fairy Tale Form
In order to make a case for The House on Mango Street as a fairy tale, we have to consider the novel’s form. Many modern critics “resist the containing power of form” (Levine 25). New formalism, however, takes the “old formalist presumption that wholes are there to contain while continuing the deconstructive tradition of celebrating resistance and rupture” (Levine 26). The form of a work of art can be found in what theorist Caroline Levine calls “the unifying power” wherein “social unity” can be found (Levine 24,31). The unifying power, in other words, is the forms ability to hold disparate parts together. The parts of Mango Street bound in its form include bildungsroman, fairy-tale, and Latina-feminist literature. The novel is substantially longer than a typical fairy tale, longer than Angela Carter’s retellings in The Bloody Chamber (1979). However, the novel consists of forty-four vignettes more comparable in length to the traditional fairy tale. Cisneros binds all of these seemingly disparate forms into one volume. Mango Street is all of these forms at once and each is bound by social boundaries that in turn influence the form.
The social boundaries that shape fairy-tale narratives are also present in The House on Mango Street. The physical boundary of Mango Street encapsulates the tension of mobility or lack thereof of the women who liver there. Derek Brewer states “fairy-tales embody the social wisdom of their communities and an implicit morality” (Brewer 15). Esperanza moves to Mango Street at the beginning of the narrative. Her parents present the move, one that Esperanza does not agree with, as a temporary resting place as opposed to a final destination. Mango Street is painfully working class and famous for the limitations placed on its residents. The new house is a “real house” just not the one Esperanza wished for. The house with its “windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath” embodies what Brewer considers an essential of the fairy tale form, “unlimited wishes and limited horizons” (15). The limited horizons are not limited to Mango Street but consist of a spectrum, from the entirety of the community down to the small family drama. Throughout, Esperanza shifts from boundary to boundary and is all the while stuck. Esperanza dreams of a house of her own. She uses her dreams to explore her future but in this first vignette she is entrenched in her present. So we begin with once upon a time on Mango Street. Once upon a time as a temporal marker is another boundary Esperanza, just like any fairy tale heroin must contend with in order to survive.
Motifs and themes determine fairy tale content. Surviving a fairy tale means having to contend with “stereotyped characters and a certain predictability of event” (Brewer 15). Regardless of particular differences fairy tales are rife with “infinite variation with infinite repetition” (Brewer 16). The proliferation of fairy tales in Mango Street mirror the repetition and rhythm of what an adolescent Mexican-American girl can expect to experience. When studying fairy tales we have to consider the specific motifs. In 510B tales, unnatural love presents as wrong but possible. In the fairy tale form, the transgression is the catalyst for all subsequent action and the nature of the transgression of being female is a cyclical marker of institutional gender disparity. Brewer contends “there is always a case for interpretation of the fairy tale, and that retelling, which are themselves reinterpretations, along with other interpretations, are likely to flourish for some time yet” (34). In other words, All Fur will be retold because there is still a need for stories where heroines escape cycles of abuse and emerge into their own subjectivity.
Critic Jack Zipes asserts that the fairy-tale “genre has not been static” (171). He continues, writing “almost all critics who have studied the emergence of the literary fairy tale in Europe agree that educated writers purposefully appropriated the oral folk tale and converted in into a type of literary discourse about mores, values and manners so that children would become civilized according to the social code of that time” (Zipes 3). Retellings are therefore not merely repetitions but responses to contemporary values and mores. What’s more, these values and mores are not as universal as one might think. Retellings are born from “socialization through fairy tales” that manifest depending on the historical and cultural moment (Zipes 9). The retold fairy-tale form then is a response to internalized codes and is Cisneros’s novella is certainly making a statement for the necessity of retellings.
Rhythms of Social Experience
The relationship between retellings and an earlier literary tradition is symbiotic. They depend on each other, and reading them together betrays contextual links that are exposed over time. There is therefore a need for retellings. The narrator in “All Fur” asks the debased princess,
“What shall become of you?” (Grimm 240). All Fur does not respond to this query. The next line implies a passage of time with the words, “at on time” (Grimm 24). We never know what happens to All Fur between the question and the ball. It can be expected that she serve in the kitchens. The moral of course being that is that she endures because “misery can turn to joy if you are brave” (Windling 299). In her retelling of “Donkeyskin,” a variation of “All Fur,” Terri Windling narrates her Donkeyskin, Maria as she contemplates the temporality of her existence. Windling perhaps seeks to fill in the gap between the question and time. She writes, “the past stretched out behind her. The future stretched out before her. And she knew which way she had to go” (Windling 299). The temporality of Maria’s choice provides immediate pressure. Once upon a time becomes all the time. Regardless of past, present or future, Maria’s reality intrudes on the fairy tale.
Repetition and subsequently retellings perpetuate not only a cycle of time but of form. One significant aspect of fairy-tale heroines is their name. Names imply more than artistic choice. In many classic fairy tales, the heroine’s name suggests a vital characteristic or fate. Their names imply inevitability that they cannot escape from. All Fur is not her given name. We never learn her real name, the reader only knows her as All Fur, the name given by the huntsmen who find her in the king’s forest (Grimm 240). The name All Fur, the name given by the huntsman who find her in the king’s forest derived from the cloak she requests from her father “made up of a thousand kinds of pelts and furs” which “each animal in [the] kingdom” contributes their skin to. Her new name instead of hearkening a new beginning intrinsically ties her to her past and the threat of abuse. Her name is therefore a legacy that she must bear on her person.
The legacy of Esperanza’s name is a burden that would limit her if she allowed it to. The literal translation of her name in English is hope, but she insists that it somehow means, “sadness, it means waiting,” much like her grandmother, Esperanza’s namesake who “looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow” (Cisneros 10,11). The repetition of the name is a repetition of form. Her name was her great-grandmother’s name and now it’s hers. The burden seems at time inescapable, she says “I am always Esperanza” trapped in a name and legacy that other have chosen for her (Cisneros 11).
She expresses a wish to “baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me. The one nobody sees” (Cisneros 11). Esperanza seeks separation from the legacy because she understands how easy it would be for her to become one of the women sitting in the window. There is no indication that All Fur internalizes her name, she never refers to herself as such, and what it means, but then again the Grimm Brothers are more interested in the moral than psychological explanations so the though would not have occurred to her as they have written her. As a heroine in a fairy tale retelling however, Esperanza has agency. She insists that though she has “inherited her name” she will not “inherit her place by the window” (Cisneros 11). Esperanza’s next step on her path to liberation is moving form passive to active heroine.
Esperanza and All Fur undergo transformations in their paths to liberation. All Fur transforms from being the kitchen maid to the most beautiful girl at the ball. On the other hand, Esperanza’s transformation is psychological and in order to survive, she has to come to terms with her new reality. In the vignette entitled “The Family of Little Feet” is misleading, briefly convincing the reader that this vignette will be as whimsical and childlike as the previous ones. It begins under the same misconception as Esperanza provides a grocery list of names, characters, and their feet, and it reads like a nursery rhyme; there was an old lady who lived in a shoe but her children had tiny feet and tiny toes. The family with the little feet doesn’t actually matter. The mother, the only family member the reader interacts with gives Esperanza and her friends Lucy and Rachel a paper bag with three pairs of shoes and because of those shoes, the girls are confronted with their sexuality in a visceral and abrupt way. The shoes signify the girls’ sexual maturity and subsequently their sexual availability whether they realize it or not, whether they want it or not.
When the girls try on the shoes for the first time Esperanza exclaims, “Hurray! Today we are Cinderella,” conjuring up images of ball gowns, fairy godmothers, glass slippers and Prince Charming (Cisneros 40). Prince Charming has long been a template for romantic love, the purest and most childlike kind of love. The girls feel like Cinderella because in the shoes they feel beautiful, so beautiful that a prince couldn’t hope but fall in love with them. They walk down Mango Street with confidence; Rachel more than the others is advanced in this matter but not in others. Esperanza equates running in the shoes like “double-dutch” a child’s game. They are little girls playing dress up never imagining that things would ever ben any different.
I argue that this vignette is a progression of the fairy tale structure. Previous chapters such as “My Name,” “There Was an Old Lady She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do,” and “Alicia Who Sees Mice” establish the fairy tale tonal flavor. These titles invoke fairy tale conventions. Both Esperanza and Cinderella derive their names from circumstances beyond their control, the former as a manifestation of her mother’s hope and the latter because of where she sleeps, and indeed their very names betray their lack of agency (Cisneros 10). “There Was an Old Lady” gets its name from a nursery rhyme about a woman who has so many children and yet the excess only makes her love her children more. The Vargas children however are “too many and too much” bursting at the seams with destructive energy (Cisneros 29). These chapters and conventions locate us in the tradition, betraying their ties to the fairy tale form.
Rachel, Lucy, and Esperanza strut down Mango Street in their heels, prominently and proudly ignorant of the inherent risks to their childhood. They play adult without realizing that their make-believe is about to become reality. In most fairy tales, there is a moment of foreshadowing, where some entity, magical or not hints at the danger ahead. Mr. Benny at the corner grocery warns the girls that their “magic high heels” are “dangerous” but they don’t heed the warning and “just keep strutting” (Cisneros 41). Mr. Benny is like Pinocchio’s conscience willing to warn but unable to force the girls to heed his warning. He implies that the shoes have magical powers, powers that the girls now possess but like Cinderella; they won’t have that power for long. The next person they encounter after Mr. Benny is a boy on a homemade bike who calls them “Ladies;” ladies and not girls. The reader notices this shift though the girls do not. Despite the catcall, Esperanza insists, “there is nobody around but us” (41). Still in the haze of childhood revelry, they remain studiously unaware. They are unable to see the catcall for what it is, another warning, perhaps because the speaker is a boy, a child like them. They are children, after all, unmolested by adult things until they encounter the bum man. He calls them “little girl” and “pretty girl” which is especially perverse since he is, in fact, sexualizing children (41). The cloudy haze of childhood fun dissipates for Lucy and Esperanza when they encounter the bum man, but Rachel doesn’t yet understand the nature of the bum man and his request. When she does, it is heartbreaking to see the girls conclude that they “are tired of being beautiful” (42). They have encountered the social contradiction of feminine beauty as something to embrace within and protect without. What they really mean is that they are tired of being adults or at least tired of being seen as adults. They don’t complain when Lucy’s mother throws the shoes away because they are not ready to confront adulthood as it has been presented to them. This chapter marks a transition in the novella as Esperanza hereafter deals with more adult problems then previously but she remains a child.
Hierarchy in Power and Form
Throughout the narrative, Esperanza emerges as a coming of age feminist heroine, one capable of fighting for the agency that her community would deny her. Her community wields considerable power in determining gender roles and expectations. Esperanza’s family history proves how difficult it has been for her mother and grandmother before her to break from the boundaries of gender. Esperanza, therefore, represents the generational hope for the women in her community. However, in order to truly consider Esperanza as a feminist fairy-tale heroine, we must also consider her ethnic background. Race, class, and age, as well as gender, are afforded the ability to, “arrange bodies, things, and ideas according to levels of power or importance” (Levine 82). It is in the intersection of Esperanza’s gender, race, class and age that she emerges a feminist heroine. The specificity of her “intersectionality” is indicative of the specificity of her inequality.
Esperanza’s specific inequalities manifest in her struggles to overcome objectivity. She has to overcome the “sheer variety of hierarchical structures that organize” her subjectivity (Levine 84). Previously, hierarchies were considered in terms of “binary oppositions” but there is so much more than male and female (Levine 82). As a feminist fairy-tale heroine in a feminist fairy-tale retelling, Esperanza must contend with fairy-tale tropes as an intersected woman of color, further complicating her relationship to All Fur. Feminist fairy-tale retellings created contemporaneously to the House on Mango Street are interested in inverting the inherent patriarchy of canonical, western fairy tales and aim to transform oppression into liberation for the female protagonists. The significance of this move is that it provides “girl children with more active and more positive role models” than Disney interpretations (Shippey 259). It would appear to be a universal project; after all, girl children of all backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities endure abuse. Considering Esperanza’s Mexican heritage does not privilege her abuse over that of white children, but understanding the cultural impact on her Mexican-American body is required to understand the abuse she suffers because of it. Like Margaret Atwood, Angels Carter and Tanith Lee, Cisneros seeks to reclaim fairy-tale motifs, types, and structure and adapt it to a subjective that is female, Mexican, poor and young.
Cisneros makes these competing hierarchies explicitly throughout the novella. Contemporary retellings have a “taste for transformation” and Tom Shippey considers Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber as perhaps the best example of the emergent taste (269). One goal of the feminist fairy tale retelling is to “get back to an original or pre-patriarchal form of a tale, in which the heroine does not have to be rescued but rescues herself” (Shippey 257). It is also common for the postmodern fairy tale tradition to tackle sex and gender but Cisneros complicates that with race and economic status. In “My Name,” Esperanza declares, “Mexicans, don’t like their women strong” (Cisneros 10). What is at stake here is the cultural Mexican perception of women. But Cisneros narrows the scope, even more, constructing boundaries around the cultural Mexican perception of women who live on Mango Street. Mango Street is the literal and figurative frame of her feminist fairy-tale retelling. Brewer and Zipes argue that fairy tales can encompass more than bourgeois tales and it is in this affordance of the frame that Cisneros constructs Mango Street and within the boundaries of “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.”
Knowledge of fairy tale motifs informs contemporary work that is not strictly literary or bourgeoisie and therefore extends to working class circumstances. The House on Mango Street as a serious retelling as opposed to a parody operates in a similar vein to Angela Carter’s work in The Bloody Chamber. In their respective works, both authors view the fairy-tale form as having the potential means of social comment, social control, or social change” (Shippey 253). Both projects are clearly concerned with social commentary but because of hierarchical systems of gender and race, the parameters in which they must operate differ. Cisneros’s consciousness and thereby Esperanza’s are concerned with liberating Mexican American women. The Bloody Chamber does not speak to that specific subjectivity and is therefore too general to be as effective for Mexican-American girls and women. Angela Carter is concerned with sexual liberation and a return to agency but Cisneros’s concern can be found by looking more closely at Esperanza’s name. Her name means hope in English but in Spanish means “too many letters” (Cisneros 10). It also means “sadness” and “waiting” and she makes it clear that she is waiting for her name and her hope to manifest in freedom and a house of her own (Cisneros 10). Esperanza needs to escape Mango Street with a desperation All Fur wants to escape her father’s castle.
Fairy tales are ultimately pliable and capable of bridging the past and the present, breaking free of social parameters. Retellings by nature are pliant and multivalent (Shippey 258, 264). They operate on many different levels at once in order to fill in the psychological gaps. The vignettes in Mango Street operate individually and in tandem with each other to create a composite of the Mexican-American female consciousness. In “All Fur,” her (check) cloak is made up of “all kinds of fur” and it becomes her name (Grimm 240). The women of Mango Street suffer from epidemic if not identical forms of abuse, ranging from beatings, rape, isolation, and incest. Esperanza as a single character does not suffer from all of these but as a woman, the experience of all of the women on Mango Street informs her identity. All Fur’s abuse manifests in the skin she asks her father to make, whereas Esperanza must bear it in her name and consciousness.
The lives and consciousness of women of color are marginalized in conversations of literary criticism, particularly in fairy-tales. Cisneros is engaged with exposing the limitations placed on the women who live on Mango Street. Her stories are “suggestive of a social reality in which women’s lives are often constrained by social mores and male violence, these images are juxtaposed against the narrator’s own coming of age story” (Wissman 18). She accomplishes this with her revisionist fairy-tale and situates herself in the “discussion of a diversity of ways that gender is enacted and shaped by race, culture, and ethnicity” (Wissman 19). Cisneros has contended that she is writing “against the stereotypes of Latinas” and works to produce a new Latina, one that is not weighed down by cultural and societal expectations (Wissman 18). By using fairy-tale tropes Cisneros simultaneously incorporates Esperanza into the canon of feminist literary heroines and restructures the fairy-tale framework to include ethnic, racial and culturally diverse perspectives. Her work is not only to reveal the consequences of gender and race but also to facilitate personal and community transformation. This type of retelling is capable of offering options for liberation.
Out of the Fairy Tale and Back to Reality
The need for escape and liberation is tantamount to feminist fairy-tale retellings. Cisneros, in particular, is interested in producing a feminist fairy-tale about coming of age through violence. There is no happily ever after, Esperanza does not marry a prince and she does not get a house of her own. There is no concrete evidence that she survives Mango Street, but there is, however, hope that she will. Esperanza is narrator, community, consciousness and ultimately an allegory of hope for the children who will survive their abuse and subsequently their childhood.
Fairy tales have the ability to provide agency by which children can survive childhood. In her afterword to her anthology, Terri Windling shares her own story of how she survived childhood and the heartbreaking truth that though she survived it, it will always be a part of her. The tension between those who leave and those who remain can extend to my interpretation of fairy tale retellings as a bridge between past and present that is inescapable (Windling 357). When confronting her sexual abuse in the presence of her mother and therapist, the therapist brushes the truth aside under the guise of leaving the past in the past, which Windling asserts is impossible (365). In reference to her survival, she writes that the past and present are “two worlds [that] mix together uneasily, like oil and vinegar, giving a distinctive flavor to my life” (Windling 367). Fairy stories were simply one of the tools of her survival. The very personal nature of Windling’s afterword hearkens to the personal narrative in The House on Mango Street in which Esperanza, who many critics believe to be a stand in for Cisneros, survives her childhood with her own retellings of fairy stories.
Esperanza is in many ways a manifestation of the networks of abuse running throughout Mango Street. She tells their stories and embodies their desire for houses of their own. We see the stories of women who will survive their childhood and those who won’t. There is a tangible connection to the past and the legacy of mothers and grandmothers who did not survive. Esperanza’s own grandmother “looked out the window her whole life” after her grandfather “carried her off” to be married (Cisneros 11). Her grandmother is described as having been wild in her childhood, wildness in this case connoting freedom and will. However, society constraints imprisoned her and the same chains manacle her own daughter, Esperanza’s mother. They did not survive and the onus is on Esperanza to break the cycle. Esperanza’s mother empowers her in “A Smart Cookie” telling her to “take care all your own” (Cisneros 91). All Fur’s unwittingly mother traps her daughter in the same cycle that she lived through, passing her legacy onto her daughter. All Fur overcomes her mother’s legacy by covering herself with another, a legacy of all kinds of fur and impossible dresses. She has to transform in order to alleviate the burden and so must Esperanza. And yet, it seems essential that these fairy-tale heroines carry the burden at least for a little while.
For the children who survive, survival is defined by “observing linkages between objects, bodies, and discourse” (Levine 113). Levine defines networks as patterns of interconnection and exchange that organize social and aesthetic experience” (113). The network that connects the women of Mango Street always come back to Esperanza because she is the witness and recorder of their stories. About Marin, a neighbor not much older than Esperanza, she says “we never see Marin until her aunt comes home from work, and even then she can only stay out in front” (Cisneros 27). Marin in trapped within layers of networks, first Mango Street and then her own front yard. Marin stands in front of her house because it is important to be seen. It is as though visual confirmation of existence is required in order to actually exist. All Fur works in the kitchen and is seen by no one, she only becomes visible when she is transformed. However, being seen comes with another set of problems.
Sally and Rafaela also live on Mango Street and they are so visible and so beautiful that it traps them. Sally’s father says “to be this beautiful is trouble” and he prevents trouble by beating her at every opportunity (Cisneros 93). He beats her because her sisters ran away, so she receives their punishment on their behalf. Rafaela who drinks coconut and papaya juice on Tuesdays has a husband who locks her in their house because “she is too beautiful to look at” (Cisneros 79). Esperanza comments that Rafaela is “still young but getting old from leaning out the window so much” the window thus becoming a micro-boundary for women on Mango Street (79). However, these are not boundaries that they place on themselves. Sally marries a marshmallow salesman in a state “where it’s legal to get married before eighth grade” to escape her father and maybe survive the rest of her childhood. She cannot, of course, her marriage ends her childhood and the very nature of that end could be used to argue that she did not. The marshmallow man won’t let her leave use the telephone or go to the window, but he doesn’t beat her. It is unclear if she will survive her adulthood. The means of All Fur’s survival is marriage. She marries the king and saves herself from incestual abuse, but will she survive her marriage? Esperanza witnesses these transformations and understands that in order to survive, she must escape.
The House on Mango Street is a story of childhood survival. Windling’s introduction to this collection contends that it is a “book about childhood; but, even though it is full of fairy stories, it is not a book for children” (13). Instead of projecting an ideal, fairy-tales can provide an alternative to being “stuck in the mindset of victimization” and encourage the “process of transformation” and ultimately survival (Windling 15). She refers to the Victorian idea of bucolic childhood as being more complex than the fairy stories might superficially imply. In reality, many childhood experiences consist of abuse, violence, and molestation. The necessity of diverse postmodern literary retellings comes from the proliferation of Victorian editors and Walt Disney which “ultimately creates a version of ‘how things should be’ which, when compared to the reality of how things are, can be very damaging” (Pilinovsky 1). The true tales of the women who live on Mango Street serve as warnings, of not seeing the truth in fairy-tales.
All Fur is not the only fairy-tale at work in The House on Mango Street. References to Rapunzel, Snow White, and Cinderella abound. However, All Fur and other Donkeyskin stories encapsulate the totality of the narrative. Donkeyskin is according to the Aarne-Thompson classification a tale type 510B also known as “unnatural love” (Pilinovsky 2). It is important to remember that while the heroine of tale type 501B does face the possibility of sexual abuse, she is portrayed as being able to avoid it through a combination of unlikely luck” and “and unrealistically achieved accomplishments” (Pilinovsky 3). I would argue that the luck and accomplishments aren’t unrealistic or unlikely. Cisneros deals with the taboo because it is necessary and Esperanza wishes for a house of her own because it is possible.
Conclusion: Fairy Tale Endings
Esperanza’s narrative ends with a reaffirmation. Like All Fur, the details of her future are unknown; there is always the possibility that she may not survive. Perrault’s tale “Donkeyskin” is “aimed at those who have need of warnings, and those who, terribly, have the experience to provide them” (Pilinovsky 15). The House on Mango Street is one such lesson in survival. In her final Esperanza hopes to “one day [sic] say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away forever” (Cisneros 110). If she does manage to survive, she will not do so unscathed. Survival, after all, does not mean that nothing bad ever happens but that one is able to endure and move past the inevitable bad. All Fur survives and proves that it is possible. But “All Fur” is not interested in psychological manifestations the way that Cisneros is. It is not enough for Esperanza’s mother to hope for survival, Esperanza must make the psychological choices that make survival possible. A house of her own is her fairy tale ending and her hope lies in its possibility.
Brewer, Derek. “The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.” A Companion to the Fairy Tale, edited by Hilda Ellis Davidson et al., Cambridge, 2003, pp. 15-38.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. Vintage, 1984.
Grimm, Jakob and Willem. “All Fur.” The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Translation by Jack Zipes, Bantam, 2002, 239-242.
Levine, Caroline. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princeton, 2015.
Pilinovsky, Helen. “Donkeyskin, Deerskin, Allerleirauh: The Reality of the Fairy Tale.” The Journal of Mythic Arts, endicottstudio.typepad.com/articleslist/donkeyskin-deerskin- allerleirauh-the-reality-of-the-fairy-tale-by-helen-pilinovsky.
Rowe, Karen E. “Feminism and Fairy Tales.” Women’s Studies, vol. 6, 1979, pp. 237-257.
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