A family that owned a monkey moved away from Mango Street, and Esperanza and her friends at last felt free to enter the family's beautiful garden. They were playing childhood games such as hide-and-seek, but Sally chose to play with boys: "Sally had her own game." "One of Tito's friends said you can't get the keys back unless you kiss us and Sally pretended to be mad at first but she said yes." Esperanza is angry at Sally, and wants to break up Sally's kissing game, but Sally tells Esperanza to go away. Esperanza runs to tell Tito's mother about the game, but Tito's mother (in a moment reminiscent of "There Was an Old Woman.") does not treat the game seriously. Esperanza, tearful, lies down in the garden, wishing to die. She does not: "[N]ot even the monkey garden would have me."
Significantly, like "The First Job," this vignette is told in a more mature narrative style. It, too, is one of the defining moments in Esperanza's movement toward maturity and adulthood. Together with "Red Clowns," it may form the pivotal moment of the novel as a whole. Readers should be alerted to the importance of the vignette because of its physical setting: a garden. From the days of Genesis and even earlier, gardens have been both innocent paradises and the stage where innocence is lost. Much (not all-see "Red Clowns," immediately following) of Esperanza's innocence is lost in the monkey garden when she realizes that her friend Sally (perhaps influenced by the events related in "What Sally Said," lending further credence to the supposition that Sally's father has sexually abused her) is no longer willing to play childhood games. Sally has been initiated into the adult world of sexuality. Esperanza has not, but she is nevertheless "turned out of the garden" (see Genesis 3): note her language that the garden "would not have" her, and that "the garden that had been such a good place to play didn't seem mine either." Esperanza is confronted with the fact that she is no longer a child; she cannot play hide-and-seek anymore, either, but she has not been initiated into a more mature world (even though Sally's initiation into that world has, presumably, been violent and abusive). The vignette closes with Esperanza in a kind of limbo, an in-between, liminal place: no longer able to participate in the world of childhood, and not yet able to participate in the grown-up world, either. The next vignette will resolve that tension-unfortunately, the resolution is not a happy one, but a final, emphatic loss of innocence.
The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: The Monkey Garden