Shame in Sandra Cisneros' the House on Mango Street

2219 Words Apr 30th, 2013 9 Pages
Sarah Clanton
Professor Nixon
ENGL 1102 MW
March 7, 2013

“Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down”:
The Power of Shame in Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street

In Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s main goal is to one day have a house of her own that she can be proud of. Of course this is many people’s dream, but for Esperanza it means everything. It’s such a big deal to her because she’s ashamed of where she lives now, so she wants something better for herself in the future. While shame plays such a major role in the novel, this theme has received little attention from critics. Many critics focus mainly on how literacy and writing help Esperanza to find herself and to help her with her problems. In fact,
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Esperanza’s situation is a reminder that shame can have a positive effect on people’s lives by being a source of motivation and inspiration.
Everyone knows that poverty can lead to feelings of shame and humiliation, but what many people don’t realize is that sometimes overwhelming feelings of shame and humiliation lead to poverty. In her article “In the Search of Identity in Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street,” Maria de Valdes goes as far as to refer to shame and poverty as a “syndrome” because she believes they’re so closely associated. “It is a closed circle,” Valdes asserts. “You are poor because you are an outsider without education; you try to get an education, but you can’t take the contrastive evidence of poverty and ‘it keeps you down.’” In other words, poverty and shame are an endless cycle because a person will be ashamed to be impoverished, but won’t be able to move up because shame will always hold them back. This can be seen in Esperanza’s mother, who didn’t finish school because she was too ashamed that she didn’t have nice clothes like the other girls. “Shame is a bad thing, you know,” she warns Esperanza. “It keeps you down” (91). Shame kept her down by preventing her from finishing school, and in turn her lack of education kept her from pursuing her dreams. Instead, she settled into the housewife life, which she still regrets: “I could’ve been somebody, you know” (91). She says it sadly, like she’s mourning the loss of what
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