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Abstract

This paper examines how the use of fairytale allusions in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street critiques and recreates standard constructions of female identity. Narrated by the young main character Esperanza, the novel explores the experiences of a variety of Latina women living on Mango Street. As Esperanza retells these stories, she frequently compares these women to fairytale characters, such as Cinderella and Rapunzel. These fairytales often define women as either “angels” or “monsters”: either they are perfect, or they are evil. Furthermore, this perfection for women is associated with dependence and passivity. As the women in the novel become associated with fairytale characters, they conform to this standard for female identity and become the “angels” promoted by fairytales. However, as the women of the novel embrace this construction of female identity, rather than receiving the “happily ever after” promised by fairytales in return for this dependence, taking on this role confines and entraps the women of Mango Street and further defines them as a tool for sexual gratification for men. Furthermore, women like Esperanza who refuse to submit to the passivity promoted by fairytales become “monsters.” In this way, the novel uses fairytales to demonstrate the dangers in defining women in the traditional roles of passivity and dependence. However, at the end of the novel, Esperanza defines herself outside of the binary of either the monster or the angel promoted by fairytales, becoming instead an autonomous yet highly compassionate women. In the end, then, The House on Mango Street’s use of fairytale tropes demonstrates the problems of fairytale constructions of female identity, providing an avenue for creating a new conception of what it means to be a woman.

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