1. The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

[This one squeezed in before Interview with the Vampire because I am teaching it]

This book is a series of 35, or so, vignettes richly describing and young woman's struggle for self-knowledge and the power to realize her own identity. Initially, what is contructed through the vignettes is the identity of her neighborhood, family, and what those aspects of her life are not. But, despite there being virtually no plot, what slowly emerges, one vignette into another, is the identity of a young woman who is shedding the roles assigned to her and wrestling for the power to define her own damned self, thank you very much.

I am not a fan of vignettes, but Cisneros has shown me their power in numbers. Actually, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has got some very potent vignettes. Maybe I am a fan.

I recommend it to anyone seeking a way to develop character without a plot. It's also good for anyone interested in adolescent identity development, emergence of self, individuation, self-actualization, etc. Whatever you like to call it.

I especially like the below vignette, so I pecked it out for you:

Bums in the Attic

I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works. We go on Sundays, Papa's day off. I used to go. I don't anymore. You don't like to go out with us, Pap says. Getting too old? Getting too stuck-up, says Nenny. I don't tell them I am ashamed--all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can't have. When we win the lottery... Mama begins, and then I stop listening.

People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they foget those of us who live too much on earth. They don't look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week's garbage or fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind.

One day I'll own my own house, but I won't foget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, becasue I know how it is to be without a house.

Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.

Rats? they'll ask.

Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy.

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