Esperanza no longer wants to come home during the school day to eat lunch; she wants to take her lunch to school and eat in the canteen like the "special kids, the ones who wear keys around their necks"-children who have been called (although not within the novel) "latchkey children," with no family at home during the day (and so they wear their keys to let themselves in when they get home).� Esperanza's mother resists the idea, knowing it will mean more work for her-"Next thing you know everybody will be wanting a bag lunch"-but she eventually relents. A nun at Esperanza's school, however, questions Esperanza's right to eat in the canteen; she knows that Esperanza lives close enough to go home for lunch. Esperanza is sent to the office of the Sister Superior, who, once she sees how important eating in the canteen is for Esperanza, lets the girl eat there, "just for today." The experience, however, does not prove to be enjoyable at all: she spends lunch crying, the object of unwanted attention from her schoolmates, eating her rice sandwich that doesn't taste good.
Like the vignette before it, this section, too, tells a tale of disillusionment. Disillusionment, for Cisneros, is a necessary task of entering the adult world. The scene also serves to dramatize the seemingly contradictory but universally experienced desire for attachment and belonging even while yearning for self-sufficiency and independence. Esperanza wants to be a part of a larger group, even as she seeks to establish her own identity; in fact, breaking away from her family (symbolized by being the first one who wants to take a lunch to school) is a part of the process of self-identification. Unfortunately for Esperanza, she fails to gain acceptance (she is stared at, not embraced, by the other children) and makes no progress toward self-identification in this moment.
The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: A Rice Sandwich