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Re-Envisioning Chicano Cultural Archetypes: The 'Dual'-ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street
MELUS Vol. 25, Issue 2. (Summer 2000): p119-132. Rpt. in
Children's Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 123. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2007. From Literature Resource Center.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
Full Text: 

[(essay date summer 2000) In the following essay, Petty examines how, in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza transcends the traditional imagery of good and bad often associated with Chicana women and thereby acts as a new model of Chicana womanhood.]

In "And Some More," a story from Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street, two young girls discuss the nature of snow:

There ain't thirty different kinds of snow, Lucy said. There are two kinds. The clean kind and the dirty kind, clean and dirty. Only two.There are a million zillion kinds, says Nenny. No two exactly alike. Only how do you remember which one is which?(35)

At first glance, the girls' conversation appears to be a bit of childish nonsense, and, on a surface level, it is. Read in a broader context, however, Nenny and Lucy's debate highlights a conflict that is at the heart of Cisneros's work: the insistence on culturally defining the world by a rigid set of black/white, good/bad, clean/dirty dualities, versus the reality of individuality, uniqueness, and infinite differentiation. Cisneros comments on the difficulties inherent in this clear-cut dichotomy, and she relates this binary specifically to the Mexican influences in her life and writing:

Certainly that black-white issue, good-bad, it's very prevalent in my work and in other Latinas. We're raised with a Mexican culture that has two role models: La Malinche y la Virgen de Guadalupe. And you know that's a hard route to go, one or the other, there's no in-betweens.(Rodríguez-Aranda 65)

According to Cisneros, then, females, like the snow, are not seen in Latino culture as unique individuals but are labeled as either "good" women or "bad" women, as "clean" or "dirty," as "virgins" or "malinches."

Cisneros is not the first writer to acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with this duality nor the cultural archetypes upon which it is based. As Luis Leal observes, "the characterization of women throughout Mexican literature has been profoundly influenced by two archetypes present in the Mexican psyche: that of the woman who has kept her virginity and that of the one who has lost it" (227).1 These archetypes, embodied in the stories of la Malinche, the violated woman, and la Virgen de Guadalupe, the holy Mother, sharply define female roles in Mexican culture based on physical sexuality; however, as historical and mythical figures, these two archetypes take on both political and social significance that also influence perceptions of femininity in the Latin American world.

As the Mexican manifestation of the Virgin Mary, la Virgen de Guadalupe is the religious icon around which Mexican Catholicism centers. Consequently, versions of her historic origin are prevalent throughout the national literature. Although several variations of the story of the Virgin's initial apparitions exist, Stafford Poole identifies the version published in 1649 by the Vicar of Guadalupe, a priest named Luis Laso de la Vega, as the definitive source (26). According to Poole's translation of de la Vega,2 la Virgen de Guadalupe originally appeared to a converted Indian, Juan Diego, in 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac, identifying herself as "mother of the great true deity God" (27). The Virgin tells Juan Diego that she "ardently wish[es] and greatly desire[s] that they build my temple for me here, where I will reveal ... all my love, my compassion, my aid, and my protection" (27). Diego immediately proceeds to the bishop in Mexico City, but he is greeted with disbelief. On his second visit, the bishop asks Diego for proof of the apparition. The Virgin sends Diego to the top of the hill, where he gathers "every kind of precious Spanish flower," despite the fact that these flowers are out of season and do not grow on that hill, and the Virgin places them in his cloak (27). When Diego visits the bishop, the bishop's servants try to take some of the blossoms, but they turn into painted flowers. Finally, when Diego sees the bishop and opens his cloak, the flowers fall out, and an imprint of the Virgin is left on the lining of the cloak. The bishop becomes a believer, begs for forgiveness, and erects the shrine to la Virgen de Guadalupe on the hill of Tepeyac.

Several elements of this story are important in the development of the cult of la Virgen de Guadalupe that spread rapidly in Mexico after this apparition. As Octavio Paz observes, "The Virgin is the consolation of the poor, the shield of the weak, the help of the oppressed. In sum, she is the Mother of orphans" (76). In addition to her religious importance, Paz and others recognize the political significance of this nurturing aspect of the Virgin in the formation of a Mexican national identity. First, in Quetzalcóatl and Guadalupe, Jaques Lafaye makes the case that la Virgen de Guadalupe is a Christian transformation of Tonantzin, the pagan goddess who was originally worshipped on the hill of Tepeyac (216). This link with Aztec culture is important because it distinguishes the Mexican symbol from its Spanish counterpart, la Virgen de Guadalupe de Estremadura.3 Therefore, as Leal notes, la Virgen de Guadalupe de Tepeyac is "an Indian symbol," and she is "identified with what is truly Mexican as opposed to what is foreign" (229). She is the "protector of the indigenous" (Leal 229). Appropriately, the image of the Virgin was used on banners promoting independence during the Mexican Revolution, and today she is revered as the "Queen of Hispandidad" (Lafaye 230), giving la Virgen de Guadalupe a political designation in Latin American tradition in addition to her religious significance.

The shrine of La Virgen de Guadalupe is a haven for the indigenous population of Mexico. As the incarnation of the Virgin Mary, Guadalupe represents the passive, pure female force. According to Paz, "Guadalupe is pure receptivity, and the benefits she bestows are of the same order: she consoles, quiets, dries tears, calms passion" (76). As such, she represents the holy, chaste woman, the embodiment of feminine purity as well as the virtues of nurturing and self-sacrifice. Thus, she is venerated in Mexican culture as the proper symbol for womanhood.

The antithesis of the pure maternal image of la Virgen de Guadalupe in the Mexican "dual representation of the mother" (Paz 75) is la Malinche, Cortés's interpreter and mistress during the conquest of Mexico. Like the Virgin, the popular perception of La Malinche is based more on legend than historical accuracy, and is therefore often romanticized and contradictory. Even her name is a source of contention. While Spanish accounts refer to her as "Doña Marina" or "Marina," indigenous Mexicans refer to her as "la Malinche," a name that implies the mythical persona as much as the historical woman. In "Marina/Malinche: Masks and Shadows," Rachel Phillips tries to deflate this myth as much as possible by using the small amount of historical documentation available to reconstruct a more factual account of Marina's life.4 To begin with, while historians and contemporaries idealize Marina, identifying her as an "Indian Princess," Phillips shows that although she was from an indigenous Mexican tribe, she was far from royalty. Born in Painala, she grew up speaking Nahuatl and was either sold or given away as a child; therefore, she was enslaved by another tribe and moved to Tabasco where she learned to speak Mayan.

As a young woman, she was given to Cortés, along with nineteen other Indian slave women, as gifts from local Indian leaders. When Monteczuma's envoys came to Tabasco to find out information about Cortés, they spoke only Nahuatl while Cortés's Spanish translator spoke only Mayan. Marina was used to provide the missing link by translating the Nahuatl into Mayan. Marina soon learned Spanish and became Cortés's primary translator. Contemporary paintings and accounts show that Marina was near Cortés at all times and that her skill as a translator helped him defeat Monteczuma, furthering the cause of the Spanish conquest in Mexico. In addition to her role as translator, historical writings confirm that Cortés and Marina had a sexual relationship; she gave birth to his son, Martín. The last bit of information available about Marina is that some time after this birth, on an expedition to Honduras, Cortés gave her to one of his captains, Juan Jaramillo, to marry.

Although the historical facts about Marina are scant, the mythic implications of La Malinche in the Mexican psyche are just as complex and powerful as those of la Virgen de Guadalupe. Octavio Paz explains:

If the Chingada5 is a representation of the violated Mother, it is appropriate to associate her with the Conquest, which was also a violation, not only in the historical sense, but also in the very flesh of Indian women. The symbol of this violation is doña Malinche, the mistress of Cortés. It is true that she gave herself voluntarily to the conquistador, but he forgot her as soon as her usefulness was over.6 Doña Marina becomes a figure representing the Indian women who were fascinated, violated, or seduced by the Spaniards. And, as a small boy will not forgive his mother if she abandons him to search for his father, the Mexican people have not forgiven La Malinche for her betrayal.(77)

Paz exposes the ambivalence that Mexicans feel for the la Malinche figure. While he equates her with the violated Mother at the beginning, he accuses her of betrayal at the end. The paradox is that Malinche embodies both the passivity and violation associated with the fallen woman while simultaneously representing the powerful act of treason as one who "betrays the homeland by aiding the enemy" (Leal 227). Both Malinche's betrayal and her violation threaten the Mexican concept of the Male; she either openly challenges his authority or is not saved by his protection. This dual threat makes her the symbol of the female sexuality that is both denigrated and controlled in Mexican society.

The work of a Chicana writer is threatened in a different way by the la Malinche archetype, a way that makes the role model of la Virgen de Guadalupe just as dangerous. For Cisneros, the dilemma is creating a role model for herself and other Chicanas that is neither limited by this good/bad duality ingrained in Mexican culture, nor too "Anglicized" (Rodríguez-Aranda 65) to adequately represent their experience. When interviewing Cisneros, Pilar E. Rodríguez-Aranda observes, "the in-between is not ours. ... So if you want to get out of these two roles, you feel you're betraying you're [sic] people" (65). In response to this dilemma, Cisneros claims that she and other Chicana women must learn the art of "revising" themselves by learning to "accept [their] culture, but not without adapting [themselves] as women" (66).

The House on Mango Street is just such an adaptation. The author "revises" the significance of the Chicana archetypes of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe through her characterization of females in the book. By recasting these mythical stories from the female perspective, Cisneros shows how artificial and confining these cultural stereotypes are, and through her creation of Esperanza, imagines a protagonist who can embody both the violation associated with la Malinche and the nurturing associated with la Virgen de Guadalupe, all the while rejecting the feminine passivity that is promoted by both role models. Therefore, Esperanza transcends the good/bad dichotomy associated with these archetypes and becomes a new model for Chicana womanhood: an independent, autonomous artist whose house is of the heart, not of the worshiper, nor of the conqueror.

Maria Elena de Valdés observes that in The House on Mango Street, Esperanza is "drawn to the women and girls [in the story] as would-be role models" (59). Not surprisingly, Esperanza does not find many lives that she would like to emulate. Her rejection of these role models stems from each character's close alliance with one of the two Mexican archetypes. Cisneros shows how being culturally defined by either of these two roles makes for an incomplete, frustrated life. While the Virgin Mother is a venerated role model, Cisneros complicates this veneration through her characterization of other maternal figures, most notably, Esperanza's mother and her aunt, Lupe.

In "Hairs," Cisneros paints an intimate picture of Esperanza's relationship with her mother, whose hair holds "the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her" (6). Like the Virgin, Esperanza's mother is a protector, a haven for her daughter during the rain. This idealized memory is marred somewhat in "A Smart Cookie," in which it is clear that Esperanza's mother is very talented, that she can "speak two languages" (90), and "can sing an opera" (90), but that she is not contented with her life. Mother says, "I could've been somebody, you know?" (91). Apparently, being the nurturing, self-sacrificing mother whose hair "smells like bread" is not sufficient to make Esperanza's mother's life complete. Instead of being a dependent female, Esperanza's mother tells her daughter that she has "[g]ot to take care all your own" (91), alluding to a culture that desires virgin-like women, but which does not reward the desired passivity with the care and adoration also reserved for the Virgin; instead, Mother mentions several friends who have fulfilled their roles as mothers but have consequently been left alone. Mother encourages her daughter to reject this self-sacrificing path that Mexican culture sees as noble, like the Virgin, and to choose instead to "study hard" (91) in school in order to prepare herself for independence.

A more forceful rejection of the Virgin archetype is evident in the characterization of Esperanza's aunt, Guadalupe. Like the mythic character for whom she is named, Aunt Lupe is a passive woman in a shrine, but in "Born Bad," this connection is corrupted with images of sickness, stagnation, and helplessness. Unlike Paz's assertion that "through suffering, our women become like our men: invulnerable, impassive and stoic" (30), there is nothing idyllic or positive about Cisneros's portrayal of a suffering woman. Instead of living in a resplendent holy place, Cisneros's Guadalupe lives in a cramped, filthy room with "dirty dishes in the sink" (60), and "ceilings dusty with flies" (60). The passivity of Lupe is the result of a debilitating illness that has caused her bones to go "limp as worms" (58). Guadalupe is chaste7 like the Virgin, but her lack of sexual activity is not a sign of her moral superiority; it is again caused by her illness and associated with the frustration and longing of "the husband who wanted a wife again" (61).

Aunt Lupe, like Esperanza's mother, does provide a haven of sorts for the young protagonist, even though Esperanza "hate[s] to go there alone" (60). Esperanza says that she likes her aunt because "she listen[s] to every book, every poem I ever read her" (60). Aunt Lupe's home gives Esperanza a safe place to explore her passion for writing and her aspirations as a poet, and this protection is the most positive connection that Cisneros makes between Aunt Lupe and the Virgin. Aunt Lupe encourages Esperanza to "keep writing" because "[i]t will keep [her] free" (61). Ironically, the life that Aunt Lupe encourages Esperanza to follow is not one of passivity and self-sacrifice associated with the Holy Mother; instead Lupe gives Esperanza a push towards independence much like the one that the adolescent girl receives from her own mother. After Aunt Lupe dies, Esperanza begins to "dream the dreams" (61) of pursuing her education and her artistic aspirations.

While the primary female characters associated with the Virgin in The House on Mango Street are adult figures, and therefore distant and revered, the females aligned with la Malinche are adolescents, making them more accessible to Esperanza in her search for role models. The images of la Malinche are more widespread in Cisneros's book than those of the Virgin; in fact, images of the violated, abandoned, or enslaved woman are scattered from beginning to end, indicating that the unfortunate reality of Malinche/Marina's life is a more likely scenario for women in the barrio than that of being worshipped as the ideal mother. Rosa Vargas, a woman with unruly children, "cries every day for the man who left without even leaving a dollar" (29); the abandonment seems to be the reason she is such a distracted, ineffective mother. The husband of another character, Rafaela, locks her "indoors because [he] is afraid [she] will run away since she is too beautiful to look at" (79). In this story, Rafaela, like Malinche, is enslaved because she and her sexuality are viewed as threats that must be contained. Another character, Minerva, who "is only a little bit older than [Esperanza]" (84), has already been abandoned by her husband, who leaves her to raise two children alone. Like Esperanza, Minerva is a poet, but her fate as a "chingada" makes her always sad, and her potential as an artist is consumed by her unlucky fate. As a young, frustrated writer, Minerva's story represents the probable path of Esperanza's life if she were to become inscribed in one of the typical roles for Mexican-American women.

While all of these women represent aspects of the Malinche archetype, perhaps the most sustained exploration of that archetype in The House on Mango Street can be found in the character of Marin, who, like Aunt Lupe, shares the name of the mythical figure she represents. By reading Marin's story through the lens of the la Malinche archetype, one gains insight into the pitfalls of this culturally proscribed role. In "Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin," the description of Marin immediately aligns her with the darker, more sexual side of Chicana femininity; she wears "dark nylons all the time and lots of makeup" (23) and is more worldly than Esperanza and the other girls. Like Malinche, Marin is living with people who are not her family, and in a sense, she is enslaved; she "can't come out--gotta baby-sit with Louie's sisters" (23).

It is Marin's aspirations, however, that most closely align her with Malinche. Marin says that,

she's going to get a real job downtown, because that's where the best jobs are, since you always get to look beautiful and get to wear nice clothes and can meet someone in the subway who might marry you and take you to live in a big house far away.(26)

Like Malinche, Marin could be perceived as betraying her family and culture. By "getting a job downtown," she is leaving her neighborhood and her duty as babysitter to go where the "better jobs" are, in the more Anglo-oriented downtown area. However, Marin does not see her actions as an act of betrayal; she is hoping for self-improvement. Just as Malinche's position as translator for the powerful Cortés seems logically preferable to being a slave who "kneads bread"8 for those in her own country, Marin's desire to escape her circumstances are justifiable. But, for Marin, and Malinche, this escape is inextricably tied to dependence on a man. The dream of marriage and a "big house far away" are Marin's sustaining thoughts, but the reality of her focus on sexuality leads to a denigration much like that of Malinche. While Marin believes that "what matters ... is for the boys to see us and for us to see them" (27), this contact only provides a space for lewd sexual invitations from young men, who "say stupid things like I am in love with those two green apples you call eyes, give them to me why don't you" (27). Finally, Marin, like Malinche, is sent away because "she's too much trouble" (27).

Through these connections, Cisneros's text appropriates the Malinche myth, showing that this type of dependence on men for one's importance and security is what leads to violation and abandonment. The danger of Marin's "waiting for ... someone to change her life" (27) lies in the possible result of this passivity. Paz comments on this potential for downfall: "This passivity, open to the outside world, causes her to lose her identity: she is the Chingada. She loses her name; she is no one; she disappears into nothingness; she is Nothingness. And yet she is the cruel incarnation of the feminine condition" (77). Cisneros seems to suggest that this "nothingness" is almost inevitable for women in the barrio.

Perhaps no one in The House on Mango Street more fully embodies the "cruel incarnation of the feminine condition" than Esperanza's friend, Sally. At different times in the book, Sally can be aligned with both la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe, and her story reveals both the objectification and confinement associated with each archetype. In "Sally," her description, like Marin's, suggests a link with physical sexuality and desirability. She has "eyes like Egypt and nylons the color of smoke" (81), and her hair is "shiny black like raven feathers" (81). Unfortunately, Sally's attractiveness is the source of much unhappiness. Because her looks are perceived as a sign of promiscuity, she is stigmatized in her school; the boys tell stories about her in the coatroom, and she has very few female friends. More damaging, though, is the reaction of her father, who "says to be this beautiful is trouble" (81), and confines Sally to her room. Like la Malinche, Sally's sexuality is doubly threatening to her father's masculinity. Not only could she betray him by being promiscuous, but her beauty might also entice a man to violate her, which would threaten the father's role as protector. This perceived threat causes her father to erupt in horrific displays of violence, hitting his daughter until her "pretty face [is] beaten and black" (92) because "[h]e thinks [she's] going to run away like his sisters who made the family ashamed" (92). Sally's father uses force to deform her and to contain her threatening sexuality.

To get away from her father's abuse, Sally marries a marshmallow salesman, "young and not ready but married just the same" (101). Sally "says she's in love, but ... she did it to escape" (101). Sally perceives marriage as the path for leaving behind the "bad girl" image that links her to la Malinche as well as the violence she associates with this connection. As a wife she gains respectability and a propriety of which her culture approves; her sexuality has been contained within the proper confines of marriage, and now she has the potential to recreate the Virgin's role as nurturer and worshipped love.

In "Linoleum Roses," Cisneros again juxtaposes the reality of the female situation with its mythic counterpart. Significantly, the image of the "linoleum roses on the floor" echoes the story of Juan Diego's flowers that heralded the need for a house of worship for the Virgin. Similarly, Sally's roses are proof of her status as a "good" female. Like the Virgin, Sally gets the home that she wants, but again the house functions more like a prison than a shrine. As Julian Olivares argues, the linoleum roses are a "trope for household confinement and drudgery, and an ironic treatment of the garden motif, which is associated with freedom and the outdoors" (165). Sally "sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without [her husband's] permission" (102). Her only consolation is looking at the roses and the other "things they own" (102). Sally has not gained much from her crossing from one extreme to the other of the good/bad dichotomy that classifies Chicana women. The house of her husband is just as limiting as the house of her father.

Diane Klein has observed that in the stories that Esperanza tells of women in her barrio, the house functions as a place of confinement (23), and this sense of imprisonment exists whether the female is associated with la Virgen de Guadalupe, whose "house" is supposed to be a shrine, or la Malinche, who is enslaved in the metaphorical "house" of Cortés and the Spanish conquerors; Aunt Lupe is just as imprisoned in her home as Marin is in hers. Only Esperanza has a different vision for the house that she wants to inhabit, one that she says is "not a man's house. Not a daddy's" (108), but a "house all my own" (108). Esperanza's quest for a house is crucial in understanding how her character transcends the Malinche/Virgen de Guadalupe duality that defines and confines the other females in The House on Mango Street. As Valdés states, "the house she seeks is in reality her own person" (58), one that is labeled neither "good" nor "bad" by her society. This radical characterization unfolds in a series of vignettes in which Esperanza is alternately aligned with la Virgen de Guadalupe and la Malinche, finally fusing elements of the two archetypes at the end of the text. While Esperanza retains a connection to these myths, her art becomes the key to her transcendence of them.

The most obvious connection made between Esperanza and either of these archetypes is the protagonist's desire for a house, which resonates with la Virgen de Guadalupe's charge to Juan Diego that "they build my temple for me here" (Poole 27). In "Bums in the Attic," Esperanza, like the Virgin, wants "a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens" (86). Esperanza's hill is connected to the hill of Tepeyac, the location of la Virgen de Guadalupe's shrine, and the reference to the garden is easily associated with the flowers on the hill that the Virgin made grow as a sign of her divinity. Perhaps a more significant connection between the Virgin and Esperanza is Esperanza's plan for her house:

One day I'll own my own house, but I won't forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.(87)

Esperanza's promise to take care of the bums is important for two reasons. First, it echoes the Virgin's promises to give "aid and ... protection" to her followers, and to "hear their weeping ... and heal all ... their sufferings, and their sorrows" (Poole 27). Furthermore, Esperanza promises not to forget "where [she] came from," establishing a connection with her society that is reminiscent of the Virgin's position as the "truly Mexican" symbol. While some critics mistakenly interpret Esperanza's desire for a house as a betrayal of her heritage that is more in line with the negative aspects of the la Malinche myth,9 her attitude toward the "bums" shows that she is not blind to the needs of those in her community, nor will she neglect her responsibility to that community. Although Esperanza's desire for a house is prompted by her desire for security and autonomy, it also encompasses a degree of compassion and nurturing that represents the noblest qualities of the Virgin archetype.

Esperanza's alignment with the Virgin, however, is complicated in the next story, "Beautiful and Cruel." Esperanza says she has "decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain" (88). Instead, she wants to be like the "beautiful and cruel" female in the movies, whose "power is her own" (89). Accordingly, Esperanza has "begun [her] own private war. ... [she is] the one who leaves the table like a man" (89). In this story, Esperanza rejects the passivity associated with all women in her culture, whether they emulate the Virgin or Malinche. Instead, she imagines herself as Paz's "mala mujer," the woman who "comes and goes, ... looks for men and then leaves them," whose "power is her own" (31). Paz sees this woman as the female equivalent to the Mexican "macho": "hard, impious and independent" (31). Still, this power is based on the mysterious, threatening existence of female sexuality that links Esperanza with la Malinche. While applauding Esperanza's refusal to be passive, the reader senses that if Esperanza relies on being "beautiful and cruel" to achieve her independence, she will follow a self-destructive path that will inscribe her on the "bad" side of Chicana femininity.

Not until "Red Clowns" is the heroine linked with the violation and forced passivity that are at the root of the la Malinche myth. While Esperanza waits for Sally at the carnival, she is raped by a male with a "sour mouth" who keeps repeating "I love you, Spanish girl, I love you" (100). Overcome with emotion while relating the story, Esperanza begs, "Please don't make me tell it all" (100), and then accuses Sally, saying "You're a liar. They all lied" (100). Like Malinche, Esperanza has been violated by someone outside her own culture, indicated by the rapist calling her "Spanish girl," which perhaps suggests that he himself is not Hispanic. The sad irony is that, also like Malinche, Esperanza is not Spanish, but Mexican, and this taunt falsely identifies her with a culture that is not her own.

This story also connects Malinche and Esperanza through a reference to language: Esperanza's saying, "Please don't make me tell it all" demonstrates just how painful recounting the story of one's own violation can be. As Cortés's translator, Malinche, too, was forced to "tell all" of the words that led to the violation of her country, and her son Martín was a nonverbal admission of the personal violation that Malinche herself suffered. Esperanza, like Malinche, understands the harsh reality of being a chingada. Maria Herrera-Sobek claims that Esperanza's accusations at the end of the story refer to this harsh reality and are directed at "the community of women who keep the truth [about female sexuality] from the younger generation of women in a conspiracy of silence" (178). This truth, according to the female characterizations in The House on Mango Street, is that, whether a woman follows the example of the Virgin, or of la Malinche, being reduced to either side of the good/bad dichotomy entails confinement, sacrifice, and violation.

It is Esperanza's dream for a house, a dream inextricably linked with her poetry, that keeps her from succumbing to her culture's demand that she be identified with one of these archetypes. Olivares interprets Esperanza's house as a "metaphor for the house of storytelling" (168). In such a metaphorical space, Esperanza can create for herself an identity that reconciles the violation and pain that she associates with Mango Street as well as the responsibility she feels to nurture and aid her community, the place in which she "belong[s] but do[es] not belong to" (110). Esperanza imagines:

One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away.Friends and neighbors will say, What happened to that Esperanza? Where did she go with all those books and papers? Why did she march so far away?They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.(110)

Elements of la Malinche and the Virgin are fused in Esperanza's plan. Like Malinche, Esperanza goes off into the world of the "conqueror," the more affluent, anglicized society outside the barrio, and also like Malinche, her motivations will be questioned. However, like the Virgin, Esperanza will return to support, protect, and aid those that need her within the barrio. Esperanza imagines herself as a bridge between these two worlds, and her writing is the tool that helps her create this connection: "I make a story for my life" (109). According to Wendy Kolmar, the "vision at the end of The House on Mango Street can only be achieved by the narrative's resistance of boundaries, separations, and dualisms" (246), and the most significant dualism that Esperanza rejects is the division of "good" versus "bad" females in her culture. Esperanza is neither "good" nor "bad"; she encompasses traits of both the Virgin and la Malinche, but she refuses passively to accept the label of either one. Instead, she sees her life, like her dream house, as a space "clean as paper before the poem" (108), with potential for creativity, autonomy, and most importantly, self-definition.

Not surprisingly, this self-definition is also a goal of Sandra Cisneros as a woman, as well as an author. In her essay, "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess: Unearthing the Racy Past of Mexico's Most Famous Virgin," Cisneros relates her own attempt to redefine what it means to be a Chicana artist by merging dichotomous images of the female: "To me, la Virgen de Guadalupe is also Coatlicue, the creative/destructive goddess. ... Most days, I too feel like the creative/destructive goddess Coatlicue, especially the days I'm writing ... I am the Coatlicue-Lupe whose square column of body I see in so many Indian women. ... I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin" (46).


1. Leal's article traces manifestations of the violated woman and the chaste woman in Mexican literature, dealing with some historical accounts from the 1660s, but focusing on works written between the 1860s and the 1960s. The author labels the various transformations of the stereotypes with terms such as "the available girlfriend" and the "pure sweetheart." Although Leal makes a convincing case for the existence of this duality, he does not develop a theory as to its significance, saying only that "Mexican literature, like all other literatures, reflects the prejudices of the ages and creates types that are remolded within the limits of these prejudices, most of them derived from the past" (241).

2. My summary of this apparition is based almost exclusively on Poole's translation because it corresponds with and elaborates on the details of the apparition that are found in other sources, such as those given by Leal and Lafaye.

3. Interestingly, Cortés and his troops venerated this Spanish icon (Lafaye 217); perhaps this explains the Mexican insistence on distinction between the two.

4. I use "Marina" consistently in this summary because that is the name Phillips uses.

5. Paz gives a detailed definition of the usage of this term (67-71).

6. Because of her status as a slave, it would seem that Paz's assertion that Marina acted voluntarily is a matter of conjecture.

7. While "chaste" is often used to designate virginity, The American Heritage College Dictionary lists "celibacy" as a third definition. While Lupe is obviously not virginal, all signs indicate that she is currently, and permanently, celibate.

8. Phillips's article includes an eyewitness account that claims this was Marina's original job as a slave (103).

9. In her synthesis of the critical reception of The House on Mango Street, Valdés criticizes Rodríguez's interpretation that "Cisneros's novel expresses the traditional ideology of the American Dream, a large house in the suburbs and being away from the dirt and dirty of the barrio is happiness," and that accuses Esperanza of losing her ethnic identity (289).

Works Cited

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage, 1991.

------. "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess: Unearthing the Racy Past of Mexico's Most Famous Virgin." Ms. July-August 1996: 43-46.

Herrera-Sobek, Maria. "The Politics of Rape: Sexual Transgression in Chicana Fiction." The Americas Review 15. 3-4 (1987): 171-88.

Klein, Diane. "Coming of Age in Novels by Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros." English Journal 81.5 (1992): 21-26.

Kolmar, Wendy K. "'Dialectics of Connectedness': Supernatural Elements in Novels by Bambara, Cisneros, Grahn, and Erdrich." Haunting the House of Fiction: Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by Women. Ed. Lynette Carpenter and Wendy K. Kolmar. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1991. 236-49.

Lafaye, Jacques. Quetzalcóatl and Guadalupe. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1976.

Leal, Luis. "Female Archetypes in Mexican Literature." Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols. Ed. Beth Miller. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 227-42.

Olivares, Julian. "Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street and the Poetics of Space." The Americas Review 15. 3-4 (1987): 160-70.

Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude. Trans. Lysander Kemp. 1961. London: Penguin, 1967.

Phillips, Rachel. "Marina/Malinche: Masks and Shadows." Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols. Ed. Beth Miller. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 97-114.

Poole, Stafford. Our Lady of Guadalupe. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1995.

Rodriguez, Juan. "The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros." Austin Chronicle (August 10, 1984). Cited in Maria Elena de Valdés. "The Critical Reception of Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street." Gender, Self and Society. Ed. Renate von Bardeleben. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1993. 287-300.

Rodríguez-Aranda, Pilar E. "On the Solitary Fate of Being Mexican, Female, Wicked and Thirty-three: An Interview with the Writer Sandra Cisneros." The Americas Review 18.1 (1990): 64-80.

Valdés, Maria Elena de. "The Critical Reception of Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street." Gender, Self, and Society. Ed. Renate von Bardeleben. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1993. 287-300.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Petty, Leslie. "Re-Envisioning Chicano Cultural Archetypes: The 'Dual'-ing Images of la Malinche and la Virgen de Guadalupe in Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street." Children's Literature Review, edited by Tom Burns, vol. 123, Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 24 June 2019. Originally published in MELUS, vol. 25, no. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 119-132.

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420076387