Esperanza's classmate Sally talks about how her father hits her, but "he never hits me hard." "But," Esperanza confides in us, "Sally doesn't tell about that time he hit her with his hands just like a dog, she said." One time, Sally was going to spend the night with Esperanza-but, just as Minerva's husbands pleaded with her, Sally's father comes to Esperanza's house, tearful and apologetic, and gets Sally to agree to come home. Things were better for a while, until Sally's father caught her talking to a boy-and "the way Sally tells it, he just went crazy, he just forgot he was her father between the buckle and the belt."
Sally's public language is common among battered women: making excuses ("at school she'd say she fell"), rationalizing, even dismissing of the abuser's behavior. The private language to Esperanza, however, reveals the truth of Sally's situation. Readers may wonder if Sally's father abuses her sexually-note the comments about "he just forgot he was her father," in suggestive proximity to a reference to a belt buckle-but, whether or not incest is involved, physical battery certainly is, and that is crime enough. Like Minerva, Sally is trapped in a cycle of abuse. Readers cannot help but feel sympathy for Sally. They should also, however, given the themes of Cisneros' novel, reflect on the fact that the emphasis of the text in this vignette is on Sally's words, not on the abuse itself. Note again the heading: "What Sally Said." Here again, Cisneros is challenging her readers to consider the potential and the limits of language. One of the major themes of the novel, as we have repeatedly seen, is the liberating power of story. Does Sally's telling of her story to Esperanza liberate or empower her to any real degree? Each reader must ponder the question for him- or herself.
The House on Mango Street: Novel Summary: What Sally Said