Gender Roles and Makeup in Mango Street

In The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros explores many motifs and themes related to gender roles in America. The main character, Esperanza, sees a very limited future for herself. Even though growing from a girl to a woman can be exciting, The House on Mango Street explores some of the cons of being assigned female at birth and growing up into a woman.  Cisneros uses the motif of makeup to explore the theme of gender roles, revealing that gender roles create a sense of entrapment and dependency for many of the females in The House on Mango Street.  

Lois is Sire’s girlfriend and is one of the first examples of the makeup motif presented in the book. Lois’ makeup reflects her femininity and elegance, which is not a bad thing for her to embrace. That being said, when more is learned about Lois’ relationship with Sire and how Esperanza views her, it is clear that gender roles create a perfect picture many girls and women struggle to try to fit themselves in. When Lois first appears in the book, Esperanza observes, “I saw her barefoot baby toenails all painted pale pale pink, like little pink seashells, and she smells pink like babies do.” (Cisneros 73).  Esperanza also goes on to say  “She’s got big girl hands, and her bones are long like ladies’ bones, and she wears makeup too. But she doesn’t know how to tie her shoes. I do.” (Cisneros 73). This evidence shows how Esperanaza feels about her femininity and how Lois is harmfully contained in gender roles.  

In the first quote Lois is compared to babies, twice. This is harmful because, really, no one should be compared to an infant. However lots of times, and as shown in the book, girls and women get pushed into this defined box where you don’t speak, and don’t make choices. Babies quite literally don’t speak or make choices, so equating a woman to a baby is just pushing the idea of perfection according to gender roles further onto women.  In the second quote Esperanza seems to be jealous of Lois. Esperaza is giving all of these magnificent similes to describe Louis. However, Lois is making Esperanza insecure which is shown at the end of the quote, when Lois not being able to tie her shoes comes up. Esperanza wants to show that she has redeeming qualities as well, and that she doesn’t need to be completely feminin to be desirable in the way that Lois is to Sire.

Marin sells makeup for Avon, and is saving the money from that to go back to her boyfriend in Puerto Rico. Marin is waiting for someone to change her life, but she’s also grasping for some control over her life. Marin is first introduced when Esperanza says “Her name is Marin or Maris or something like that, and she wears dark nylons and lots of makeup she gets for free from selling Avon.” (Cisneros 23). Further on in the novel it can be inferred that Marin is trapped and is waiting for someone to change her life, as demonstrated in the quote “Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself is singing a song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, for someone to change her life.” (Cisneros 27).

Marin is looked over in the first quote, Esperanza doesn’t even remember her name. What Esperanza does remember is that Marin wears dark nylons and sells makeup for Avon. Marin is depending on other people to change her life and that is evident in the fact that she’s saving the money she makes to go back to her boyfriend in Puerto Rico. Marin cannot leave the front steps of her house so she is physically trapped. However, she stares boys down. She’s not afraid. Except it can be inferred that Marin is afraid, because depending on someone else to change your life is much easier than putting the responsibility on yourself. 

Sally wears makeup despite her dad’s disapproval. Sally’s makeup is bold and different, and is a way that she expresses herself. However Sally expressing herself with makeup is trapping her in the same cycle she is trying to get out of. Esperanza likes how Sally looks as shown in the quote “Sally, who taught you to paint your eyes like Cleopatra? And if I roll the little brush with my tongue and chew it to a point and dip it  in the muddy cake, the one in the little red box, will you teach me?” (Cisneros 81-82). Esperanza also seems to understand the fear that Sally holds when she says “And why do you always have to go straight home after school?” You become a different Sally. You pull your skirt straight and rub the blue paint off your eyelids.” (Cisneros 82). 

 Esperanza admires Sally, and understands at this point how trapped Sally is. The second quote shows pretty clearly that Sally is physically trapped. Sally has to go straight home after school, and has to present herself differently. Sally feels trapped too, but at the same time she is dependent on her dad and family to take care of her. The only viable way she sees out of this trappment is to get married at a young age and that’s exactly what she does.

To sum it all up the makeup motif is used in The House On Mango Street to explore the theme of gender roles in America. Cisneros uses Lois, Marin, and Sally to present examples of makeup. Further on Cisneros uses the makeup motif to relate back to gender roles and how they create the feeling of entrapment and dependence for many girls and women in The House on Mango Street. Overall Cisneros does a very good job at representing the theme of gender roles with makeup. Cisneros leaves the reader to make interpretations and fill in the blanks for themselves, and this creates very meaningful connections for the reader. After all, The House on Mango Street is a very meaningful book and addressing difficult subjects like gender roles helps make it that much more relevant. 


I will be displaying an essay that I worked really hard on in English. My essay is about how the book The House on Mango Street uses the motif of makeup to explore the theme of gender roles. This project is important to me because I think it shows the progress I’ve made with writing over the year and it covers a topic I feel is important.