Introduction: The House on Mango Street, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents are all explorations of identity, and central to the concept of identity is the concept of home. These books are complicated and home is a complicated concept but I’m going to do my best to try and explore the unique ways that each book addresses the question of where and what home is by looking at the narrative styles of each novel and specifically at their beginnings and endings.
I: The House on Mango Street
HMS presents of view of home that is rooted in the everyday and underscores the importance of perspective and a sense of self
- Cisneros does not build from one idea of home to a different idea
- The beginning and ending of the book are largely similar; both expresses a dissatisfaction with home
- Instead the focus of the book is on the snapshots that make up what it is to live on Mango Street
- The story is written in Esperanza’s voice for Esperanza, as a way for the “ghosts to not ache so much”
II: The Kitchen God’s Wife
KGW’s idea of home is rooted in the eventual connection between Pearl and Winnie
- There is a clear arc to the story
- The first chapter, in Pearl’s voice, is all about complications, stress, sickness, and lies
- The last chapter, in Winnie’s voice, is about connection and catharsis
- Ultimately Winnie’s and Pearl’s stories are for each other, not for the reader
- The last passage is narrated in the language of “we,” it is a moment of connection between two characters that the reader is witnessing from the outside
III: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
- Again there is a clear arc to the story
- The first chapter focuses on Yolanda in the third person and shows her returning to her home country where her interactions aspire to a projected romanticism but are dominated by her foreignness
- The last chapter is narrated by Yolanda recounting her childhood and explore an existential loneliness at the heart of her home
- The last chapter seems to be written for the reader
- The tone is confessional and addressed to the reader giving the ending a feeling of loneliness rather than catharsis or understanding
Focusing on the narrative arc of the three novels is a great idea. You might want to be a bit more schematic about the contrasting meanings offered by the three novels. HMS begins and ends with “home” as a place one is dissatisfied with, doesn’t necessarily fit into, and eventually leaves behind, but a place that remains important nonetheless. HGGLTA, on the other hand, seems to take “home” to be an unachievable ideal: Yolanda begins and ends with not having a secure sense of belonging either in the US or in the Dominican Republic. Finally, KGW seems to fall on the other side of the spectrum: “home” here signals an existential state where one is at peace with oneself, an existential state one could grow into (Pearl coming to like the dressing table that her mother gave her, and Winnie becoming more and more American in her cultural references, making a home for herself in the US in part by making a home for the only goddess she “worships,” the kitchen god’s wife). Does this organizing structure make sense?
For my final paper I want to explore the role of temporality in narrative structure and think about the importance of the movement of time in stories.
In the introduction to The House on Mango Street Sandra Cisneros notes that she intentionally wrote the book so that it could be picked up and read at any point, it doesn’t need to be read linearly from cover to cover. Amy Tan and Julia Alvarez make very deliberate choices in the structures of the narratives in The Kitchen God’s Wife and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, and the order of pages seems much more important.
Using The Kitchen God’s Wife and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents as a lens through which to study The House On Mango Street I’m going unpack their differences in narrative style and try to understand how the different narrative styles shape the way that we understand different countries and the past.
These three are great examples of interesting narrative structure. You might want to reverse your line of inquiry, though. Rather than using KGW and HGGLTA to reflect on HMS, you might want to begin with the relaxed looseness of structure in Cisneros, and proceed to explore how and why Tan and Alvarez feel that they have to tell their story in one particular way: backwards.