In The House On Mango Street (THOMS), Cisneros presents her characters as Mexican/Mexican-American people acting in Mexican/Mexican-American ways. Cisneros uses the quest of the protagonist to become a writer to expose the binary nature of the protagonist’s world. These experiences serve as contextual references to the definitions of womanhood that surround her. The protagonist is surrounded by men and women of her community who offer her insight into what it means to be a woman and her expected role. It is through these presentations that she must create for herself a definition and her respective role within this community. The protagonist is provided with information of the importance of family in Mexican culture. She is exposed to the value of family and the penalties for violating gender-based norms. It is pointed out to her an expected position within her community. She observes that the Mexican American family is “hierarchical in structure, asymmetrical in social and gender relations, genealogical in matters of residence, and loyal to the family in its moral economy.”39. Likewise, she observes that women are categorized by their role within society and between good and bad.
Cisneros uses three feminine archetypes significant to THOMS to present her female characters and provide information about the female protagonist, Esperanza during her transition toward womanhood.40 The three feminine archetypes significant to THOMS include the following: la Virgen de Guadalupe, la Llorona, and la Malinche. She presents the archetypes to the reader through the protagonist, Esperanza. As the archetypes are presented, Esperanza must consider the female archetype as it relates to her quest to become a writer. It may be argued that she uses her characters as a method of protest of the dominant culture by reconfiguring these cultural icons and the exploration of the injustice of poverty.41
La Virgen de Guadalupe is a Mexican and Mexican American goddess figure-the Mexican manifestation of the Virgin Mary42 said to have appeared to a Mexican peasant and performed miracles in 1531. She has been embraced by Mexicans as a loving guardian who understands them and their unique needs. Her iconography consists of both indigenous Mexican and Spanish symbols. She serves as a figure of love and unity for the diverse peoples of Mexican heritage. Viewed as spiritually pure, she is the Virgin mother who never abandons her children.
The figure of the mala madre is also an important element in the cultural fictions of some Latin American countries.43 In the dichotomy between the good mother versus bad mother, the bad mother is relegated to a marginalized position. In a patriarchal society, the bad mother represents the extreme of motherhood based on how she raises her children.44 La Virgen de Guadalupe is juxtaposed against historical and folkloric characters of la Malinche and la Llorona.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of motherhood of la Virgen de Guadalupe is la Malinche. La Malinche is portrayed as a defiled indigenous concubine who is considered from a religious standpoint the bad Eve to the good Mary.45 La Malinche served as the translator for, conqueror Hernán Cortés and mother of his child. She became known as la Chingada after the Mexican Revolution. As part of the Mexican identity, she is portrayed as the “violated” mother of the first mestizo.46 La Malinche is often viewed as a sexual and treasonous woman who betrayed her people for self-serving, material reasons despite the fact that she was actually “a gift given to the Spanish conqueror to gain his favour.”47 Some argue that she is demonized because she fails to comply with the image of a passive and submissive Mexican woman.48
For every hypermasculine man there is a hyperfeminine woman. According to research on gender relations, women put up with persistent male abuse and irresponsibility because of the machismo/marianismo model of gender relations. The model suggests that (hyperfeminine) women welcome (hypermasculine) abusive male behavior as spiritual verification of their true womanhood.49 In this model, women demonstrate moral superiority or sainthood by enduring such “suffering” at the hands of their spouses’ abuse or irresponsibility. The “goodness” or the moral superiority increases with the spousal level of abuse and irresponsibility. Marianismo blames the victim by suggesting that the wives benefit from machismo. According to this “blaming the victim” model, wives/mothers are content with their domestic feminine power and do not wish to make any changes to this status so long as they are continually protected and allowed to maintain their “cultural purity.” The model holds women’s behavior is not merely a response to machismo but a survival strategy employed in a culture where men hold economic, political, and legal power.50 Under this model, women are free and powerful because they are not bound by the pressures of the male oriented business world.
Marianismo has evolved into a nearly universal model of stereotypic behavior of Latin American women.51 The tradition established by the Spanish relegated unquestioning, obedient women to the home, church, and family. It served as a way of vilifying women like La Malinche by predicting social censure for those seeking a more independent, public role.
Another problem with the marianismo concept is it based on middle-class Latin America, where women are socially segregated, discouraged from working, and exclusively identified with the home. Women in this context are isolated and exhibits of affluent men. Hence, for poor women who must work the model is not an option because if they don’t work their families do not eat.52
La Lorona is portrayed as a bogey man figure said to wander nightly by the waters looking for her lost children. She often used by parents as a warning to be careful at night or run the risk of being abducted by La Lorona to ease her pain for her lost children. In Mexican folklore her role of mother is ambiguous. Although she is portrayed as a weeping mother in search of her children, she is often presented as a mala madre (bad mother) who is responsible for drowning her children to punish her husband for his unfaithfulness. She is both mother and murderer.