Minerva is a neighbor who is only a little older than Esperanza, but who is already a mother. She leads a difficult life-"[b]ut when the kids are asleep. she writes poems." Minerva's biggest problem, Esperanza decides, is that she keeps taking her husband back after throwing him out. He pleads with her and she lets him back in the house-only to emerge from the house herself "black and blue and asks what can she do?" Esperanza decides there is nothing that she, Esperanza, can do for her.
This vignette presents an accurate portrayal of the cycle of abuse in which many women find themselves. Minerva the poet is ironically named: Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, but Minerva of Mango Street does not exhibit wisdom in continually taking back her husband. It is hard to judge her harshly, however, because many abused people will stay in abusive relationships because, as terrible as they are, they are a known quantity and provide some stability to life, however difficult. For her part, Esperanza does not spend much time contemplating why Minerva acts as she does. Instead, as she did with her great-grandmother, Mamacita, and Rafaela, Esperanza draws from Minerva's experience the determination to avoid the same fate: "There is nothing I can do," she says, meaning not so much that she does not care about Minerva, but that she must ultimately be concerned more for her own well-being, more for the establishment of her own identity-her central quest throughout the novel-than for helping Minerva create her own. Readers may sense that, as a poet-as a worker with words, as a constructer of narrative-Minerva has the potential to find story's liberating power, as Esperanza will. But Minerva remains as a symbol that story does not have an inevitable power to free people. Story must meet some quality of willingness inside the storyteller in order to create freedom. Thus, the title Cisneros gives this vignette takes on a sad quality: "Minerva Writes Poems," yes, but she lacks the wisdom to "translate" those poems into her real life and make changes for herself. She does not act-she is only ever acted upon, and in a brutal way, at that.
The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: Minerva Writes Poems