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escape socialization, but the fact may be, as 'The House on Mango Street" shows, that the impacts of socialization stay forever. A Society has effects just as environmental pollution has. Some of these may be positive; others neutral, but still others may be self or socially destructive. The problem is that we are too close to these effects to recognize them for what they really are. In "The House on Mango Street," both Esperanza and Sally experienced acculturation. Sally was stunted by reaction to her society and unable to escape it. Esparanza, it seems, may have the potential to escape. Nonetheless, as Cisneros notes, the effects of acculturation stay forever.
All societies, as all groups of humans, both micro and macro, are effected by their specific acculturations. The Mexican-Americans who are the inhabitants of the "house on Mango Street' represent an example of one such society. The incredible thing is that Esperanza, the protagonist and the main character in the book, was able to step aside and see her socialization in a positive way. Sally, also longing to flee, was unable to do so. She married a man who trapped her. We receive the impression that many of the older inhabitants of Mango Street, including Esperanza's parents -- are trapped in their ways. It takes the rare individual to objectively see his socialization for what it is and the courage to resolve to leave it. Esparanza was determined to and may have been able to do so.
All groups and societies have their own transmitted traditions and histories. Marx tells us that:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please. They do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living. (Marx; the 18th Brumiere of L. Bonaparte).
And, indeed, we all live with the values of earlier ages that have become absorbed into the fabric of our culture and impact us without our permission or knowledge.
Social values may be like physical contamination. We live to close to it to see it, but it is there all the time surrounding us and impacting us. Some of the factors in the air are healthful for our growth. These include water, nutrients, oxygen. And some - invisible to us -- may be plain destructive. We don't see them because they are invisible to us. We don't see the social values because they have absorbed into our cultural environment and are invisible to us. We are used to them. They are so obvious. That they become obviated. And oblivious.
Cisneros, in her introduction, tells us that Esperanza was partially a memoir of her own experiences. Born and socialized as Latino in Chicago, she had presumed the world to be like Chicago, she had thought in terms of her own culture and it was only when attending college in Iowa City, that she realized her otherness. It came about through reading books authored by American writers. They spoke about houses that contained attics, basements, stairwells, and Cisneros, contrasting these houses to her own shabby apartment of her childhood became enraged that neither the neighborhoods, nor houses, nor experiences that her college teachers discussed sounded like hers. Her education "had made presumptions about what was "normal," what was American, what was valuable" (xiv). Her teachers, and instructors, and writers and indeed the whole society were socializing students and citizens into buying into a certain cultural existence that did not exist; or at least did not exist for all. Reading these books and sitting through these classes, Cisneros realized the danger of socialization and determined on righting the wrongs. Socialization was like pollution; too close to see it, yet it exists and it may contain faulty and erroneous values that may contaminate.
Determining to open up her co-citizens to the existence of socialization and to show them that certain realties were disparate to those taught in the school systems, Esparanza went home and wrote "The House on Mango Street." The narrative was one of the ugliest subjects that she could find. It featured "a child's voice, a girl's voice, a poor girl's voice, a spoken voice, the voice of an American-Mexican" (p.xv). In other words, it featured all the ignored voices of those who were rejected from the elite.
The characters in the tale all live in a poor, stunted environment. They are mainly people who are stuck in their society and unable to escape. Some like her parents delude themselves. Her mama says that they will live in th3 house on mango street "for the time being" (p.6). Her Papa says that they will live there only "temporarily" (ibid.). Esparanza knows better. She comments: "But I know how these things go." (ibid). Seeing the house though her nun's eyes, Esperanza knows she has to leave:
'Where do you live? She asked.
There, I said pointing up to the third floor.
You live there?
There. I had to look to where she pointed -- the third floor, the paint peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so that we wouldn't fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded...
I knew then I had to have a house. A real house… (p.6).
Sally was another person who was affected by her environment. She learned to preen her looks and behave sexually in the manner of her culture, but Sally was not affected by her religion. Perhaps that subculture bypassed her for it was too strict and, therefore, had an opposite effect. Sally was beautiful. She was fun-loving and impulsive. Her religion thwarted that:
Her father says to be this beautiful is trouble. They are very strict in his religion. They are not supposed to dance. He remembers his sisters and is sad. Then she can't go out. Sally I mean. (p.101)
Sally's religious socialization consequently had the opposite effect. Irked by her religion, Sally rebelled and threw herself into the lures of her wider socialization that consisted of both her Latino background as well as the seedy environment that she lived in.
Esperanza wonders whether Sally too doesn't wish to escape:
'Sally, do you sometimes wish you didn't have to go home? Do you wish your feet would one day keep walking and take you far away from Mango Street, far away and maybe your feet would stop in front of a house, a nice one with flowers and big windows and steps for you to climb up two by two upstairs to where a room is waiting for you' (p.103)
It is Sally's poverty that has made her as she is, but perhaps if "there'd be no noisy neighbors watching, no motorcycles and cars, no sheets and towels and laundry" just the unhampered breadth of rural suburbia:
'You could laugh, Sally. You could go to sleep and wake up and never have to think who likes and doesn't like you… You could close your eyes and you wouldn't have to worry what people said because you never belonged here anyway and nobody could make you sad and nobody would think you're strange because you like to dream. And no one could yell at you, if they saw you out in the dark leaning against a car, leaning against somebody without someone thinking you're bad… and no one could call that crazy' (p.104).
In other words, if Sally had only grown up in a different culture she may be more readily accepted and would more likely be able to do the things she wished to do. She wouldn't be abused. She'd be a happier, better-adjusted girl. She wouldn't need to attempt to deceive her parents and others. She would be able to escape her socialization.
Sally rebelled, but not far enough. Engulfed by her parental and religious restrictions, "Sally got married… young and not ready but married just the same." (p.124). She became a high school dropout, mothered a child and entered an unhappy marriage that was just as restrictive as her parental home had been. "She has her husband and her house now… but I think she did it to escape" (p.124). Attempting to escape her socialization, Sally failed to escape far enough. She exchanged the rigidity and mindlessness of her religion for the rigidity and mindlessness of a different way of thinking and, controlled by the socialization of her poor upbringing, fell into that of a trapped and restricted marriage.
Reacting to her situation, Sally becomes sexually irresponsible allowing boys to misuse her. She too, in a way, is a product of her society for she is unable to look beyond and objectively assess the mire that she is in, as well as ways to escape that mire.
Amazingly enough, it is Esperanza who despite her sequestered upbringing and traumatic experiences, sees her…[continue]
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