Sandra Cisneros, in her novel The House on Mango Street, portrays the American Dream as alive and well, although in a new and feminist form. If one means by that Dream primarily the opportunity to advance from a place of poverty to a place of economic success, then the Dream only partially applies to Esperanza, the book's protagonist. Esperanza does have material dreams as well as more artistic and spiritual ones, but even her material desires are rooted in her fundamental dream of being free from racial, social and sexual oppression, free to be her most individualistic and creative self. Despite the fact that her dreams are, indeed, self-oriented, they are not merely selfish but are part of her sense of commitment to a larger community.
Cisneros's novel covers a number of years in the life and coming-of-age of Esperanza, a young girl growing up in Chicago. The book primarily focuses on the conflicts between Esperanza's developing dreams and desires, and the harsh life she and her family lead in urban poverty. These conflicts are not resolved by the end of the book, but the determination and resiliency of Esperanza strongly suggest that she will find success in life and some measure of creativity, if not happiness.
The reader meets Esperanza as a little girl living in the misery of poverty, shame and loneliness. Despite her circumstances, however, she is intelligent, sensitive, and curious, full of a sense of wonder about the world. Her dream gradually evolves into the desire to be an artist, to express both her pain and her joy. By the end of the book, she has hardly achieved her dream, but she has established the habits and sensibilities of an artist which will lead her to likely personal if not professional success.
Cisneros shows that what might seem to be Esperanza's selfish dreams are in fact self-directed and vitally necessary if this Latina is going to survive and thrive in a world run by men, a world in which wom...