Learning to Love Sandra Cisneros

I’d be the first to say that I was skeptical of Cisneros’ way of writing, specifically her famed novel, The House on Mango Street. I started with her introduction, which enthralled me. It pulled me into the world of a struggling writer. I saw Cisneros as a young woman who went to the movies alone because it scared her and as a daughter connecting with her mother on a rooftop.

Her introduction was sweet and straight forward, which only made the transition to her novel more difficult. I didn’t understand why she needed to break apart her narrative. I was convinced Cisneros’ could tell her story the way she had told her introduction, without breaking it up into short fragments. What I couldn’t understand, however, was how to put Cisneros’ style into greater context. When I first tried to read The House on Mango Street, I hadn’t yet learned how to appreciate a writer as intentional as Cisneros. I also wasn’t open to the idea of experimenting with the conventional form of the novel. My understanding came when I read Woman Hollering Creek, one of Cisneros’ short story collections. Somehow reading her short stories made it easier for me to comprehend her style and understand why the short story form was the format she needed to tell the story behind The House on Mango Street.

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Woman Hollering Creek and The House on Mango Street side by side.

Woman Hollering Creek, though a grouping of separate short stories, has a great sense of flow because of the similar themes that run through the collection. Two short stories in particular “My Tocaya” and “Woman Hollering Creek” explicitly describe their characters as being inbetween Dolores and Soledad or pain and solitude. While her symbols require close reading, every one of them is purposeful and many other themes like indigeneity and poverty also make appearances.

What Cisneros does best in her collection, however, is challenging normative ideals about males, females, and Mexican Americans. In “Salvador Late or Early” and “Remember the Alamo,” Cisneros challenges the conventional ideas that males do not engage in feminine tasks or pastimes. “Salvador Late or Early” tells the story of a young boy that cares for all his brothers and sisters, clothing them, feeding them, and ensuring they make it to and from school. Salvador works as the domestic male, challenging stereotypes against male domesticity. “Remember the Alamo” challenges the idea that men should not engage in theatrical endeavors like dance. Cisneros writes the main character as “elegant” and “pretty” creating a challenge to masculinity.

While I can go on and on about what Cisneros does well in her writing (trust me there is a lot) the easiest way to experience the brilliance of Woman Hollering Creek is to read it. I have grown to love Cisneros’ work, not just because of how easy it is for me to relate to it, but also because of how good her writing is.

I aspire to be like Cisneros when it comes to my writing. I want to be as deliberate as she is when I choose my words. Her word choice, structure , and form are all significant. Everything has been carefully thought out and incorporated to represent her overall themes.

Woman Hollering Creek is a fantastic collection of short stories for anyone looking to learn more about sisterhood, Mexican Americans, border culture, womanhood, marriage, love, family, and the path to adulthood. The collection is also a fantastic work to reference when wanting to improve your own writing. The thought and care reflected in Cisneros’ short story collection is enough to merit a close reading of her work.

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