Esperanza records her mother's wistful lament that she could have been "somebody." Her mother remembers how she quit school because she did not have nice clothes, and she is "disgusted" with that decision. She urges Esperanza to study hard, and to feel no shame: "Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down."
It is a mark of Cisneros' skill as an author that she does not ever allow her audience to remain satisfied and one hundred percent optimistic about Esperanza's chances of achieving her quest for identity. And, in fact, are any of us ever completely secure in our identity? Cisneros' text serves a mimetic function, imitating real life-another evidence of narrative's liberating power: we see in the characters of story the same crises that confront us. Exploring those crises in them can provoke us into exploring those crises in ourselves, preparing us for real life and thus empowering and liberating us. At any rate, after the previous vignette, in which Esperanza rather defiantly announced her intention to live free, in the face of familial and societal expectations, she and we are confronted with the realization that her mother at one point made the same determination for herself. She was a "smart cookie" once-and readers have no reason to doubt the truth of her mother's self-evaluation. And yet, she is Esperanza's mother all the same, living in the house on Mango Street, compromising her dreams with reality. All people must make such compromises, however; it is part of the path to maturity and adulthood. It is part of growth. Readers may ask: Is Esperanza's mother any less of a self-actualized individual-any less of a "smart cookie"-because she has managed to provide, however tenuously, a stable and nurturing environment for her children? The vignette strongly implies that Esperanza's mother at some point made a deliberate choice for the life she has-if not in all its particulars, then in its overall direction of motherhood and family. She chose those priorities-and what else defines the individual, if not the ability to choose? The text leads readers to believe that Esperanza's mother would not agree with this interpretation; nevertheless, it is a possible "re-framing" of her mother's contention that she is not, in fact, "somebody." As a large presence in the book, and in her children's lives, she is, indeed, somebody important. Possibly, when she is telling Esperanza to feel no shame, she is telling herself as well.
The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: A Smart Cookie