By: Rachel lyle, June 30th, 2017
There are many similarities between the books The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, in both their themes and their settings. They share many themes and motifs within their texts. Their settings also may seem different from each other but they are similar in more ways then seems to be expected.
One of the many themes that these two texts share with each other is the idea of the struggle for self-definition. This idea is spread through out The House On Mango Street through the main character, Esperanza, and her search for a way to set herself apart from herself and to become a person of her own and not be defined by others and those around her. One way she sees this is through her name, “I have inherited her name, but I don’t want inherit her place by the window.” (The House on Mango Street Pg. 11). Esperanza was named after her great- grandmother and she sees others defining her by what her great-grandmother did and who she was because of her name but she does not want to be defined by this she wants to define herself by who she is and what she, herself does not by her great-grandmother. She also tries to define herself in many other ways such as by comparing her laughter to others, “Not the shy ice cream bells’ giggle of Rachel and Lucy’s family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking.” (The House on Mango Street Pg. 17) or by wanting a house of her own to define herself, “Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed.” (The House on Mango Street Pg. 108).
In The Jungle, the main character, Jurgis, in many ways looking for his own form of self- definition. One of the many ways in which Jurgis saw seed-definition was in buying a house to belong the family and have it all their own. His feelings about owning a house himself were very similar to Esperanza’s feelings about it, “Their good luck, they felt, had given them the right to think about a home; and sitting out on the doorstep that summer evening, they held consultation about it, and juries took occasion to broach a weighty subject.” (The Jungle Pg. 48). He feels the need to be sure the house is all and completely his before he can be sure of himself and his pride, “The lawyer explained that the rental was a form—the property was said to be merely rented until the last payment had been made, the purpose being to make it easier to turn the party out if he did not make the payments. So long as they paid, however, they had nothing to fear, the house was all theirs.” (The Jungle Pg. 57). He can now have self-definition through being known as a homeowner, “They had bought their home. it was hard for them to realize that the wonderful house was theirs to move into whenever they chose. They spent all their time thinking about it, and what they were going to put into it.” (The Jungle Pg. 57).
A second theme that is in both The Jungle and The House on Mango Street disrespect of women. In The House on Mango Street Esperanza is constantly running into people who mistreat her because she is a woman or women who are mistreated themselves for being female. There are many instances of women being disrespected because of their gender threaded throughout the book, “And since Marin’s skirts are shorter and since her eyes are pretty, and since Marin is older than us in many ways, the boys who do pass by say stupid things like I am in love with those two green apples you call eyes, give them to me why don’t you. And Marin just looks at them without even blinking and is not afraid.” (Pg. 27), “Then he asked if I knew what day it was, and when I said I didn’t, he said it was his birthday and would I please give him a birthday kiss. I thought I would because he was so old and just as I was about to put my lips on his cheek, he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn’t let go.” (Pg. 55) “And then Rafaela, who is still young but getting old from leaning out the window so much, gets locked indoors because her husband is afraid Rafaela will run away since he is too beautiful to look at.” (Pg. 79), “But who believes her. A girl that big, a girl who comes in with her pretty all beaten and black can’t be falling off the stairs. He never hits me hard.” (Pg. 92). It seems like the only the way that Esperanza knows about the way people treat those of her gender is disrespect. It appears to be that this was what she was constantly exposed to and doesn’t know any other better treatment of women other than disrespect for being female.
Ona, Jurgis’s wife in The Jungle experiences much mistreatment by those at her place of work,
For a long time Ona had seen that Miss Henderson, the forelady in her department, did not like her. At first she thought it was the old-time mistake she had made in asking for a holiday to get married. Then she concluded it must be because she did not give the forelady a present occasionally—she was the kind that took presents from the girls, Ona learned, and made all sorts of discriminations in favor of those who gave them. (Pg. 108)
Ona had to buy the respect of the superiors in her work place because she was a woman rather than earning it by the hard work she did and she did to get respect without buying it even if she respects her superiors. One way specifically in which they mistreat her is when she is pregnant she leaves her job to give birth to her child, “And so Ona went back to Brown’s and saved her place and a week’s wages, and so she gave herself some one of the thousand ailments that women group under the title of ‘womb trouble,’ and was never again a well person as long as she lived. it is difficult to convey in words all that this meant to Ona; it seemed such a slight offense, and the punishment was so out of proportion, that neither she nor anyone else ever connected the two.” (Pg. 111). She almost lost her job because she got pregnant because the forelady didn’t like her and that fact that she left for a week to give birth would have been a in Miss Henderson’s eyes a good excuse to fire Ona.
Even Jurgis treats her with disrespect when he finds out she has been lying to him about where she has been going during the time of her second pregnancy. He starts yelling at her and basically abusing her:
‘You have lied to me, I say!’ he cried. ‘You told me you had been to Jadvyga’s house that other night, and you hadn’t. You had been where you were last night— somewhere’s downtown, for I saw you get off the car. Where were you?’…. For half a second she stood, reeling and swaying, staring at him with horror her eyes; then, with a cry of anguish, she tottered forward, stretching out her arms to him. But he stepped aside, deliberately, and let her fall. She caught herself at the side of the bed, and then sank down, burying her face in her hands and bursting into frantic weeping…. Jurgis bore it until he could bear it no longer, and then he sprang at her, seizing her by the shoulders and shaking her, shouting into her ear: ‘Stop it, I say! Stop it!’ (Pgs. 148-149).
She told him she had been staying with a friend on nights when it was too cold to go home, but he finds out she had been somewhere downtown.
In fact she was downtown because she was at her forelady’s house with her boss who had been mistreating her by forcing her to sleep with him in order for her to keep her job,
She tried to hide her eyes away, but he held her. ‘Miss henderson’s house,’ she gasped. He did not understand at first. ‘Miss Henderson’s house,’ he echoed…. ‘Tell me!’ He gasped, hoarsely. ‘Quick! Who took you to that place?’ ….Still she answered him, ‘Connor.’ ‘Connor,’ he gasped. ‘Who is Connor?’ ‘The boss,’ she answered. ‘The man—’ …. ‘Tell me,’ he whispered, at last, ‘tell me about it.” She lay perfectly motionless, and he had to hold his breath to catch her words. ‘I did not want—to do it’ she said; ‘I tried— I tried not to do it. I only did it to save us. It was our only chance.’….Ona’s eyes closed and when she spoke again she did not open them. ‘He told me—he would have me turned off. He told me he would—we would all of us lose our places. We could never get anything to do—here—again. He—he meant it—he would have ruined us.’ (Pgs. 150-151)
She is being sexually abused and assaulted by her boss. She feels like there was nothing she can do about it so she is ashamed it and she knows that Jurgis would be angry about it so she kept it a secret from him. Even the way Jurgis treats Teta Elzbieta when he is angry at Ona for lying can be considered disrespect and abuse:
‘Don’t make any noise,’ she whispered, hurriedly. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked. ‘Ona is asleep,’ she panted. ‘She’s been very ill. I’m afraid her minds been wandering, Jurgis. She was lost on the street all night, and I’ve only just succeeded in getting her quiet.’ ‘When did she come in?’ he asked. ‘Soon after you left this morning,’ said Elzbieta. ‘And has she been out since?’ ‘No, of course not. She’s so weak, Jurgis, she—’ And he set his teeth hard together. ‘You are lying to me,’ he said. Elzbieta started, and turned pale. ‘Why!’ she gasped. ‘What do you mean?’ But Jurgis did not answer. He pushed her aside, and stoode to the bedroom door and opened it….Because the sounds she made set his blood to running cold and his lips to quivering in spite of himself, he was glad of the diversion when Teta Elzbieta, pale with fright, opened the door and rushed in; yet he turned upon her with an oath ‘Go out!’ he cried, ‘go out!’ And then, as she stood hesitating, about to speak, he seized her by the arm, and half flung her from the room, slamming the door and barring it with a table. (Pgs. 147, 149)
Even the settings of both of these books are similar in many ways, especially with them being set in the same city. They both take place in low-income neighbors, or more likely ghettos, of a certain race or people group. The city they both take place in is Chicago but different places in Chicago. The House On Mango Street takes place in a small Latino, ghetto, neighborhood, most likely the barria, based around a house that is not the way that Esperanza wanted it or expected it to be, “The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don’t have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn’t a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it’s not the house we thought we’d get.” (Pg. 3). The house seems to Esperanza to be too cramped for her living space, she sees it as cramped because she thinks the house is too small and not a truly real house and everyone has to share a small bedroom,
But The house on Mango Street is not the way they told it at all. It’s small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you’d think they were hiding their breath. Brick are crumbling in place, and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in. There is no front yard, only four little elms the city planted by the curb. Out back is a small garage for the car we don’t own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the twi buildings on either side. There are stairs in our house, but they’re ordinary hallway stairs, and the house has only one washroom. Everybody has to share a bedroom—Mama and Papa, Carlos and Kiki, Me and Nenny. (Pg. 4)
The Jungle has somewhat of a similar setting to this, The Jungle takes place in Chicago as well but it is in the small, cramped, ghetto, immigrant neighborhood of “Packingtown”, the city’s meat packing district in the early 1900s:
The most uncanny thing about this neighborhood was the number of the children; you thought there must have been a school just out, and was only after long acquaintance that you were able to realize there was no school, but that there these were the children of the neighborhood—that there were so many children to the block in Packingtown that nowhere in its streets could a horse and buggy move faster than a walk!….Jurgis and Ona were not thinking of the sunset, however—their backs turned to it, and all of their thoughts were of Packingtown, which they could see so plainly in the distance. (Pgs. 33-34)
Even with the similarities compared to “Packingtown”, the barrio is open and full of space to live fairly easily. The conditions were so cramped that multiple people, often entire families had to share one single room,
Yet, when they saw the home of Widow Jukiniene they could not but recoil, even so. In all their journey they had seen nothing so bad as this. Toni Aniele had a four-room flat in one of that wilderness of two-story frame tenements that lie “back of the yards.” There were four such flats in each building, and each of the four was a “boarding house” for the occupancy of foreigners—Lithuanians, Poles, Slovaks, or Bohemians. Some of these places were kept by private persons, some were co-operative. There would be an average of half a dozen boards to each room—sometimes there were thirteen or fourteen to one room, fifty or sixty to a flat. Each one of the occupants furnished his own accommodations—that is, a mattress and some bedding. The mattresses would be spread upon the floor in rows—and there would be nothing else in the place except a stove. It was by no means unusual for two men to own the same mattress in common, one working by day and using it by night, and the other working at night and using it in the daytime. Very frequently a lodging-house keeper would rent the same beds to double shifts of men. (Pgs. 31-32)
As can be seen here the books, The House on Mango Street and The Jungle can be compared to eat other in many different ways. They are similar through their themes, the struggle for self-definition, as well as the mistreatment and disrespect of women being woven throughout both books. In many ways they are also similar in they places they are set and take place, both being in small, low-income, cramped, ghetto, neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.