The House on Mango Street

Growing up in a poor Chicago neighborhood, Esperanza Cordero longs for a better life but finds it difficult to break free of the past.


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Explore the Words


definitions & notes
only words

  1. chandelier

    an ornate branched lighting fixture
    Just like that, as if she were a fancy
    chandelier.
  2. sassy

    improperly forward or bold
    She is very
    sassy.
  3. limb

    one of the jointed appendages of an animal
    The dog is big, like a man dressed in a dog suit, and runs the same way its owner does, clumsy and wild and with the
    limbs flopping all over the place like untied shoes.
  4. jut

    extend out or project in space
    Out front there are twenty-one steps, all lopsided and
    jutting like crooked teeth (made that way on purpose, Cathy said, so the rain will slide off), and when Meme’s mama calls from the doorway, Meme goes scrambling up the twenty-one wooden stairs with the dog with two names scrambling after him.
  5. scramble

    climb awkwardly, as if by rushing hastily
    Out front there are twenty-one steps, all lopsided and jutting like crooked teeth (made that way on purpose, Cathy said, so the rain will slide off), and when Meme’s mama calls from the doorway, Meme goes
    scrambling up the twenty-one wooden stairs with the dog with two names
    scrambling after him.
  6. automatically

    in a mechanical manner; by a mechanism
  7. fleck

    a small contrasting part of something
    She is the one who told us how Davey the Baby’s sister got pregnant and what cream is best for taking off moustache hair and if you count the white
    flecks on your fingernails you can know how many boys are thinking of you and lots of other things I can’t remember now.
  8. brim

    a circular projection sticking out from the crown of a hat
    We know the guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby’s brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw
    brim, that’s Rosa’s Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he’s Fat Boy, though he’s not fat anymore nor a boy.
  9. descend

    move downward and lower, but not necessarily all the way
    The mother’s feet, plump and polite,
    descended like white pigeons from the sea of pillow, across the linoleum roses, down down the wooden stairs, over the chalk hopscotch squares, 5, 6, 7, blue sky.
  10. linoleum

    a floor covering
    The mother’s feet, plump and polite, descended like white pigeons from the sea of pillow, across the
    linoleum roses, down down the wooden stairs, over the chalk hopscotch squares, 5, 6, 7, blue sky.
  11. strut

    walk in a proud, confident way
    It’s Rachel who learns to walk the best all
    strutted in those magic high heels.
  12. totter

    move without being stable, as if threatening to fall
    Lucy, Rachel, me tee-
    tottering like so.
  13. tavern

    a building with a bar licensed to sell alcoholic drinks
    Across the street in front of the
    tavern a bum man on the stoop.
  14. stoop

    small porch or set of steps at the front entrance of a house
    Across the street in front of the tavern a bum man on the
    stoop.
  15. canteen

    a room with food sold to personnel at an institution
    My home isn’t far but it’s not close either, and somehow I got it in my head one day to ask my mother to make me a sandwich and write a note to the principal so I could eat in the
    canteen too.
  16. spartan

    resolute in the face of pain, danger, or adversity
    I’m no
    Spartan and hold up an anemic wrist to prove it.
    In this sentence, Cisneros is referring to the ancient race of Spartans in Greece, who were known for being warlike, firm in their beliefs, and well-disciplined.
  17. anemic

    lacking vigor or energy
    I’m no Spartan and hold up an
    anemic wrist to prove it.
  18. swell

    expand abnormally
    My feet
    swell big and heavy like plungers, but I drag them across the linoleum floor straight center where Uncle wants to show off the new dance we learned.
  19. cue

    a reminder for some action or speech
    I want to move like heebie-jeebie, I say picking up on the
    cue.
  20. naphtha

    a volatile, flammable liquid made of hydrocarbons
    She is the color of a bar of
    naphtha laundry soap, she is like the little brown piece left at the end of the wash, the hard little bone, my sister.
  21. fare

    the sum charged for riding in a public conveyance
    So the next morning I put on the navy blue dress that made me look older and borrowed money for lunch and bus
    fare because Aunt Lala said I wouldn’t get paid till the next Friday, and I went in and saw the boss of the Peter Pan Photo Finishers on North Broadway where Aunt Lala worked and lied about my age like she told me to and sure enough, I started that same day.
  22. limp

    lacking in strength, firmness, or resilience
    But I knew her sick from the disease that would not go, her legs bunched under the yellow sheets, the bones gone
    limp as worms.
  23. voodoo

    a religion practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries
    The top of the refrigerator busy with holy candles, some lit, some not, red and green and blue, a plaster saint and a dusty Palm Sunday cross, and a picture of the
    voodoo hand taped to the wall.
  24. pillar

    anything that approximates the shape of a column or tower
    Here a
    pillar of bees and this a mattress of luxury.
  25. intern

    an advanced student or graduate in medicine
    Nobody but an
    intern working all alone.
  26. currency

    the metal or paper medium of exchange that is presently used
    They never knew about the two-room flats and sleeping rooms he rented, the weekly money orders sent home, the
    currency exchange.
  27. scarcely

    almost not
    Finally I came to the last lines: “But answer came there none—and this was
    scarcely odd, because they’d eaten every one .
  28. wedge

    force into a tight space
    The little wooden door that has
    wedged shut the dark for so long opens with a sigh and lets out a breath of mold and dampness, like books that have been left out in the rain.
  29. jukebox

    a cabinet containing an automatic record player
    Earl is a
    jukebox repairman.
  30. ferocious

    marked by extreme and violent energy
    They send
    ferocious roots beneath the ground.
  31. hysterical

    marked by excessive or uncontrollable emotion
    ¡Ay! Mamacita, who does not belong, every once in a while lets out a cry,
    hysterical, high, as if he had torn the only skinny thread that kept her alive, the only road out to that country.
  32. suede

    leather with a napped surface
    My mother says to wear black so young is dangerous, but I want to buy shoes just like yours, like your black ones made out of
    suede, just like those.
  33. content

    satisfied or showing satisfaction with things as they are
    They don’t look down at all except to be
    content to live on hills.
  34. threshold

    the entrance for passing through a room or building
    My mother says when I get older my dusty hair will settle and my blouse will learn to stay clean, but I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the
    threshold waiting for the ball and chain.
  35. velvety

    smooth and soft to sight or hearing or touch or taste
    She borrows opera records from the public library and sings with
    velvety lungs powerful as morning glories.
  36. porcelain

    ceramic ware made of a more or less translucent ceramic
    The green metal cage, the
    porcelain table top, the family that spoke like guitars.
  37. fringe

    an ornamental border of short lengths of hanging threads
    There were sunflowers big as flowers on Mars and thick cockscombs bleeding the deep red
    fringe of theater curtains.
  38. crusty

    having a hardened outer part as a covering
    Poke a stick in the sandy soil and a few blue-skinned beetles would appear, an avenue of ants, so many
    crusty lady bugs.
  39. bazaar

    a sale of miscellany; often for charity
    She met a marshmallow salesman at a school
    bazaar, and she married him in another state where it’s legal to get married before eighth grade.
  40. trudge

    walk heavily and firmly, as when weary, or through mud
    “And so she
    trudged up the wooden stairs, her sad brown shoes taking her to the house she never liked.”
Created on April 4, 2013
(updated August 24, 2018)