Home Is Where the Heart Is: The Meaning of Two Distinct Words

“A house is just four walls and a roof, but a home is made up of everything else inside. A house may be decorated from floor to ceiling with the finest furnishings money can buy. But that will never make it a home.” – Anonymous.

What happens when you are ashamed of your own home, the place that keeps you safe, your sanctuary, the place you belong to? What happens if you start thinking of your home as the same as your house? This question is important because people everyday always mistake the words home and house as having the same meaning, when actually, they mean two completely different things. Physical things can never ever compare to emotions or feelings, and I think that’s the biggest difference between the two words. Home is a place you connect with, where all your memories lay, where you belong to, where you’re from. It tells your story, it whispers who you are, but never what you will become. The House on Mango Street, written by Sandra Cisneros, is about a girl named Esperanza and her convoluted story of her moving to a new house and community. In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza treats the words “house” and “home” as the same word, but as the book progresses, Esperanza learns/sees that a house just represents her social class, and is very different from a home which represents her identity. This new knowledge ultimately changes her view on Mango Street’s community.

At the beginning of the book, Esperanza implies that she wants a house of her own that she can be proud of, not realizing that what she actually wants is a home she can be proud of. In a vignette called The House on Mango Street, (the very first one) Esperanza is telling us about the previous apartments she lived in and arguing how the house on mango street was not the house she dreamed it would be. “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it.” (5) This quote shows that Esperanza is ashamed of her class and more of the status of her neighborhood and her street. Though this might be (unconsciously) clear to Esperanza, she forces herself to narrow it down to her house, even though it’s really her home that she is ashamed of.

Towards the middle of the book, Esperanza’s definition of home and house shifts a bit from representing her yearning to representing Mango Street’s oppression and the sadness of the people from there. Esperanza is telling us about this girl named Sally, who Esperanza sees and admires her for her maturity. Esperanza is trying to understand Sally, trying to connect with her, by just observing to herself, and wondering. “… as if no one could see you standing there, Sally. What do you think about when you close your eyes like that? And why do you always have to go straight home after school? You become a different Sally.” (82) This quote shows how “home” is the dreaded cause of oppression for Sally, and for her, and for everyone on Mango Street. She implies that when Sally leaves for school, or away from Mango Street, she is leaving her worries and her sadness at home, and comes back to it at the end of the day, everyday, just like everyone on Mango Street. “She lets me read her poems. I let her read mine. She is always sad like a house on fire — always something wrong.” (Page #: 84) In this quote, Esperanza compares this girl, Minerva and her sadness, to a house on fire. It’s a peculiar analogy, but it shows how Esperanza feels that it’s the house that traps her. The house that traps Sally. The house that traps Minerva. The house that brings these gender issues, and poverty, and sadness.

By the end of the book, Esperanza realizes that after so many years of telling herself that she is not Mango Street, she accepts her home, even if she never will like her house. Esperanza is describing a time where she is sitting on the steps of a house with a girl named Alicia who lives on Mango Street, too. “You live right here, 4006 Mango, Alicia says and points to the house I am ashamed of. No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. You have a home, Alicia, and one day you’ll go there, to a town you remember, but me I never had a house, not even a photograph… only one I dream of. No, Alicia says. Like it or not, you are Mango Street, and one day you’ll come back too.”(106-107) This illustrates that Esperanza is finally being told, that throughout the whole book, she has been unconsciously directing her shame towards her home; her community, and where she comes from. If you think about it, she has never been encouraged and told that she is safe and that she should not be ashamed of her own home. As Alicia told her: she will always be Mango Street: her home. “… but what I remember most is Mango Street, sad red house, the house I belong but do not belong to… they will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones, I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.” (Page #: 110) This reveals that Esperanza is tired of not accepting herself and who she is. And where she is from. By the end of the book, the reader feels this powerful sort of breath from Esperanza. Like she is breathing out all her doubts, and insecurities. Breathing in her true self, and finally accepting herself: Mango Street.

In conclusion, Esperanza discovers that her physical house does not define who she is, and who she will become or what path she will go down in the future. Cisneros shows us this by shifting Esperanza’s opinion on her home, and directing it towards her community and herself, more than her street and her physical house. She realizes that her feelings and emotions are what makes up her home and that a building can belong to her, but she will never be able to belong to it. This knowledge shows us the value of your home. Where you belong, where you come from, who you are. Ultimately, no one should be ashamed of who they are and where they come from, no matter what class, what neighborhood, how much money your family has. Its home and no one can ever change that.

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