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The House On Mango Street

Vignette Lane

Compiled by Elizabeth Todd


Vignette inspired by "Meme Ortiz"

by Lesley Sico

Task: Write a vignette from Meme’s point of view of what he thinks the tree symbolizes. Include as many details of his characteristics in the writing as you can.

"Juan!" I cringe as the word is rolled off my mamma’s tongue in her thick Spanish accent. My friends snicker, for they know I am Meme outside. Still, I clamber up the twenty-one rickety steps to the woman standing within the splintering doorframe.

"Es tiempo para la cena," she tells me. It is time for dinner. I wave a fleeting goodbye to my friends as they race noisily down the worn-down gravel road.

Inside, my family is seated in flimsy chairs that creak with every movement. Mama, Papa, Uncle, Pedro, Elisa, Cousin Maria, and Jose. The table sways on wobbly legs as dishes of rice, and beans, and peppers are set down. The smell is deliciously intoxicating, but I am not hungry. Phrases spoken in Spanish fly around the room, dishes clatter, food is spooned onto my plate. The noises blend incoherently, and the blobs of color merge on my plate. The room sounds like a carnival, or a freight train.

I shut my eyes and try to tune out the hustle-bustle of the house. My eyes open, and wander around the room until settling on a form seen through the dingy, cloudy gray window.

The tree. Whether wrestling around with the neighborhood boys or alone watching the stars, the tree is my favorite place to be. Its broad, sturdy trunk branches out to long, sloping arms that stretch to the sky. In the autumn, its vivid green leaves change stunningly to earthy browns, reds, golds, too soon falling to the ground leaving only a bare, brittle frame.

Our tree is the tallest in the whole neighborhood, watching over the town with wise, old eyes. All the kids love coming to my house because my tree is the best for contests and climbing and clubhouses. It is all I have to be proud of in this place of run-down houses, cracked sidewalks, and cockroaches.

One of my fondest recollections of the tree is the First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest. Of course, I was the host since the tree is in my backyard. Kids from all over town gathered to watch the dangerous spectacular, folks jumping and yelling with all their night. When it came my turn to compete, I let out a howl and flew off the branch, floating swiftly through the air. The crown was silent , unmoving as if holding its breath . As I landed with a horrid crunch, the spectators exploded in cheers. I had won the contest! I had also broken both arms. Despite my fragmented bones, the feat made me a hero.

In a sense, this event and the tree represent my heritage, both beautiful and tragic. Though my birth right haunts me so, I cannot rid myself of it. It is my past, my present , and my future. It is a part of who I am. It can raise me to the highest heights , and bring me down in shame. My heritage is a pair of wings and a set of roots at once. No matter what, I will always be Juan inside.


Vignette inspired by "Meme Ortiz"

by Laura Baggaley

The Tree

My name is Meme, or if you are my mother it’s Juan. I live a difficult life, or I guess you can say lives. The best way to explain it to you is to tell you about the tree. The tree symbolizes just about every aspect of my life. Like my figure, the tree is huge. It has fat arms and the families of squirrels sitting on the branches symbolize the weight of my problems each day. The tree is split into two parts, but from just looking t `t you would not think so. Half of the tree is above ground which everyone notices, but the part of the tree that everyone forgets about is the half of the tree that is underground. Just like the tree, my life is split in two.

The half that is above ground is my social life with my friends around the neighborhood, outside the house. This is what everyone sees. The way I act outside of school is different than my personality inside the house. When around my friends my name is Meme. It is not as Mexican as Juan. The huge tree symbolizes how I wish to be looked up to. I dream of being a leader.

Because I am so tall like the tree, I see what goes on all around the neighborhood. I see the ugliness of the town but just close my eyes and pretend not to notice. At the base of the tree there is a dog barking, symbolizing the little children’s nagging and yelling. They are so young and tiny, but such a large annoyance in a peaceful time.

I stare down the street at our tiny house, pretending not to live there, knowing I don’t have to live in that house until I go home. Until then, I just try to fit in. When outside the house, by the tree I just try to have fun. But no matter what I do( like the Tarzan Jumping Contest where I won, but broke my arms) I have fun for a moment and then I am brought back down to the reality of being who I am.

Below the ground are my roots, which no one sees. My family is what holds me down like the tree’s roots, always reminding me of who I am and where I come from. I am Juan and I am from Puerto Rico. No matter how much I try to escape my past, I am tied down for life. I can be Meme above ground, but my roots always lead me back to Juan.



Vignette based on "Louie, Louie's Cousin and Louie's Other Cousin"

by Lauren MacMillan


Finally I had something that was mine. Something I could take home to impress my family. That something was a stunning yellow Cadillac that had white walls and a yellow scarf tied around my mirror.

It was a sunny day, the day I decided to go home. With my arm out the window, I casually drove up the alley to see my cousin Louie and a bunch of his friends playing volleyball. I honked a few times and watched as my cousins came out of the house.

Wide-eyed and tongue-tied, they admired the leather and white rugs. Then, they asked where I got it. I was not going to explain that by selling drugs I earned this that by more or less by negotiation. How I got it was not important, but how I felt when I was the center of attention.

I told them all to hop in. Each kid had one of Louie’s sisters on their laps, but they obviously didn’t mind who would in a car like mine. They also liked my cat that I had bought to match the car, which sat perched on the back window. About the Sixth time around the block I had to tell the darn kids to quit playing with the newly installed FM radio.

Halfway around the block I started to hear sirens. As they got louder, the knot in my stomach got tighter and I knew I had to get out of there fast. I slammed on the brakes.

"Everybody, out of the car," I yelled.

Fear frightenly flowed through my veins. I pushed the pedal to the floor, with the plush carpet and wished more than anything I could have gotten a real job and bought the car with money from paychecks, not the last drug deal.

I could feel the eyes of the cop car staring at me from the rear view mirror. My vision is blurred. I know that if I can make the next left-hang turn I will be home free, but I cant, I know it, and I feel as the car looses control and crashes into a lamppost.

Marin is screaming. I can hear her and I’m sure the other children are running over. The salty taste of blood is on my tongue and my head is hurting. My hands are pulled behind me and the metal rings are clamped on. The door is slammed and I’m in shock. The neighborhood kids who don’t understand are waving at me like I’m on a departing cruise ship, bound for a majestic island.


Vignette inspired by "Alicia Who Sees Mice"

by Nina Laney


I hate mice, always have. My father says to close my eyes, to ignore them, but I know they’re still there. I go to school now, because I don’t want to end up like all the other women I know, in a factory or in a kitchen. But for now, my place is in the kitchen, my father says.

Every morning, I am awake before everyone else, it is still dark outside when I am up. Making tortilla lunches is my duty, and I otherwise tend to the house. Why? Just because I am a girl? I hate waking up so early, my studies need to be kept up, and why can’t they make their own lunches? Ending up like so many of the other of the women I know frightens me; subservient to their family’s needs, always putting themselves, their desires, wishes, feelings, their own lives, last. I do not want to be tied down, a slave my whole life. My spirit is free, I will not follow the lifestyle of most women, my life will be different. I am the turning point in the tradition passed down from generation to generation amongst women.

Not only do mice frighten me, but so does my father. So strict, he is. Never compromising, never sympathetic, never showing affection. Take the mice for example. He knows that I am terrified of them, yet he downplays my feelings. "close your eyes," he tells me. "They’ll go away." Yet, they are still there, no amount of pretending will fix that. He could comfort me, soothe me. Assure me that I am safe. But no, he is cold-hearted toward me. I feel as though my only function in his life is as a maid, no emotional value. He frightens me almost. So unforgiving, unrelenting, unfeeling, and seemingly uncaring. Doesn’t he realize that I am not a grown woman? He expects so much from me, I’m not sure if he realizes how hard he is on me.

So until I am away from my house, I guess my role will be as the housekeeper, that is, if I get away. School is my escape, ‘but it is not my place,’ says my father. Do I listen to my father, or my heart? Do I complete the age old cycle, the monotony of a female’s life? Or do I break away from tradition? Until destiny steps in, I guess my place is in the kitchen, tortillas, mice, fathers and all.


Vignette based on "Some Kind of Place to Live"

by Mandy Conover


Sister Mary-Margaret carries herself expressions all school day. Her eyes never leave your own while speaking to you and a smile never cracks though the surface of her face. Her blank emotions quickly turned scared. She grips her Rosary beads tight and holds them to her robe. Now, you wouldn’t think that this would be the case, but I guess even nuns get afraid in neighborhoods like our.

And when she gets to my house, she slows down and examines it in disbelief. Sometimes when she drives the church station wagon, she drives up and down the street and watches me and Nenny draw with our crayons on the sidewalk. And I pretend not to notice.

The nuns of our church gather around after morning mass and talk about the day’s services. But their conversation always drift to the people at the services. I see them glaring at me. (For nuns, They sure have a painful stare and flimsy tongues.)

One Sunday I acted as though I was getting Papa a Jelly donut and overheard their talk. I heard them talk about Carlos, but I couldn’t quite tell what; something about the Vargas children. I didn’t need to hear their words to know what they were saying. Everyone always says the same thing about them.

When I passed the table, they turned silent and I laughed inside at their child-like ways. When I stepped away they immediately started their motors again. They were talking about me. But I knew that would happen.

I hear voices. I hear my name. Esperanza Corderno. My name like metal on the roof of their mouths. I hear them say she lives in that tiny red house at the end of Mango street. The stairway, in front, is so small that you’d have to turn sideways to squeeze in. (But at least it’s better than some other places they’ve lived.) There is no yard for little Nenny to play in and certainly no flowers to see when you pass by. They do not have a garage. They also have nothing to put in it. Can you believe they don’t have a car? There is a back yard, but it is so small that it might as well not be there at all.


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Last updated:  Sunday, March 18, 2001

1998 - Hill, Lara and her English 1 Honors Class