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The Foil Character Sally: A Psychoanalytic Approach To Cisneros' The House On Mango Street

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Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality is hinted at throughout The House on Mango Street, written by Sandra Cisneros. Freud’s theory argues that human behavior is the result of interactions among three components of the mind: the id, ego, and superego. The id component works completely with the unconscious mind to act purely on instinct and only on what one wants. The superego component is part of the conscious and it is your morality, telling you right from wrong. The ego component works partly with both the conscious and unconscious mind to go after what it wants in a rational way, a balance between the id and superego. Freud believed that these components are all in constant conflict and that an adult’s personality and behavior comes from the results of this conflict happening while growing up.

Throughout life, we will encounter many other people and most of those will have a role in our own future. Everyone has those few people that they become close enough with that they start to represent who we want to be in the future. Or those people can be someone that is different for who we are and be someone we wish we were. In Sandra Cisneros The House on Mango Street, there are many female characters that appear in Esperanza’s life. One character in particular catches her attention and who she starts to envy is Sally. Sally is everything that Esperanza isn’t, in fact they are yin and yang. They both have the same goal of wanting to leave Mango Street just like the other women of the neighborhood, but the two girls take on different actions to achieve their goals. Cisneros illustrates Sally as a foil character to Esperanza by showing hints of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory throughout the book.

Sally is the one person in Esperanza’s life that she is close to and envies. When Esperanza describes Sally to the readers, she talks about how she wants to be just like her: “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?...I want to buy shoes just like yours” (Cisneros 82). Esperanza sees Sally as a person that is different from her and sees things about her that she wants for herself. The jealousy of Sally is shown throughout the chapter as Esperanza describes the life of her. Osamu Kitayama wrote an article called “Becoming a Psychoanalyst: To Think About the Nature of Jealousy”. In this article, Kitayama goes into depth on what jealousy is and how it affects the people in the world. She states that

It is the envy of people, who want to become like the performer but cannot, that brings them to the concert hall. People who succeed in becoming the person they wanted to become rejoice that they've won, but, at the same time, feel sorry for being an upstart, feel sorry for not being able to respond sufficiently to people's expectations, and wish that others will challenge them in turn someday.

What she is saying is that envy is what causes people to do certain things. Just like how the people who want to be like the performer go to the concert, Esperanza wants to be like Sally so she wants to be with Sally. She tries to be like Sally by wanting her mother to buy her the same things that Sally wears, but also by going to the carnival with her, “And anyways I don’t like carnivals. I went to be with you because you laugh on the tilt-a-whirl, you through your head back and laugh...I like to be with you Sally” (Cisneros 99). Esperanza envies Sally more than any other person in the book. She wants to be like Sally when it comes to how she acts and how she looks. This envy of Sally causes her id to be present and it shows what she really wants.

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When a woman is raised in a patriarchy, she begins to feel trapped. The female take on the role as a housewife and as a partner to a working man from the start. All the women who want to leave Mango Street have one thing in common: they all are feeling trapped by a man. Sally wants to leave the neighborhood just like Esperanza. Sally’s father beats her whenever she looks at boys and he tries to control her through physical and verbal abuse, “he just went crazy, he just forgot he was her father between the buckle and the belt. You’re not my daughter, you’re not my daughter” (Cisneros 93). Her id is filled with this desire to put herself out there for boys despite the consequences that she will receive from her father. This controlling nature of her father encourages her behavior toward boys because she is desperate to get what she wants. This view is explained more in the article “The House (of Memory) on Mango Street: Sandra Cisneros’s Counter-Poetics of Space” written by Karen W. Martin. Martin expands on this by stating, “The act of ‘putting woman in her place,’...inscribes her within an isolated zone dominated by the threat of physical and verbal violence perpetrated by the very men who have asserted their roles as women's protectors... Chicana woman’s immobility precludes her development of a sense of self and further exacerbates her dependence on the male-identified male” (Martin 60). She explains how physical and verbal abuse was used by men that have made themselves to be woman’s protector. Martin speaks of men attempting to control Chicana women to where the women lose a sense of independence and begin to rely on the male to fulfill their id. In Sally’s case, she is relying on marriage to escape her father’s abuse. Esperanza’s father on the other hand isn’t present in her life much because he is always working in order to support his family. Sally’s father is portrayed to be aggressive towards his daughter while Esperanza’s father has no trouble letting his daughter see his softer side. An example of their difference is when Esperanza’s father cries after his father passes away and Sally’s father beats her just for talking to a boy. Esperanza has a sense of independence since her father is not controlling and doesn’t not try to be a patriarch. Esperanza’s id is filled with the desire to leave, but her desire doesn’t have her relying on marriage to achieve her want while Sally is relying on marriage to be able to leave. Esperanza is guided by her ego more than her id because she attempts to achieve her want in a way that is acceptable without being instinctive and doing the wrong thing. While Sally is out there letting herself be controlled by men in order to escape her father, Esperanza doesn’t allow herself to be controlled and she doesn’t rely on anyone to help her achieve her goal. Sally’s father has hindered her growth making her dependent on men while Esperanza’s father has helped her to grow and develop a sense of independence.

Throughout the book, a house is used as a motif to show the confinement of women due to a patriarchy. Normally, a house is seen as somewhere where you feel safe and where you can come and go as you please. In The House on Mango Street, a house is seen as a prison and somewhere women are confined. This is shown when Cisneros writes, “Except he won’t let her talk on the telephone. And he doesn’t let her look out the window. And he doesn’t like her friends, so nobody gets to visit her unless he is working. She sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without his permission” (102). Sally becomes one of these women who are forced to stay inside after she marries her husband. Her husband keeps her confined inside the house and does not let her have any contact with the outside world. A home should be a safe place, but with Sally it’s not a safe place. Instead, her home is a place of containment. One big difference between Esperanza and the other women of the neighborhood is the fact she has the freedom to walk out of her house as she pleases. The other women are forced to stay in their homes as it acts as a prison. The idea of a house being a symbol of control over women by men is further discussed in the article “Of Woman Bondage: The Eroticism of Foot in The House on MangoStreet” by Michelle Scalise Sugiyama. The article takes different approaches to showcase how men try to control the women of Mango Street. Sugiyama states that, “The confinement of a woman to the home can be seen as an attempt to keep her chaste. For it is not female movement per se but rather female sexuality that the men in the text are trying to control” (Sugiyama 14). Sugiyama argues that the men attempt to control women's sexuality. This makes sense due to the fact that Sally along with Rafaela are both confined to their homes as punishment for being beautiful. This punishment occurs out of fear and as an attempt to control them. This observation caught my attention because it is exactly what Sally’s father is trying to do to her. Sally’s father tries to control her in an attempt to keep her running off with aman just like her aunts did. Esperanza’s father doesn’t confine her unlike Sally’s father. Esperanza may not see her house as her own, but she has the freedom to walk in and out of it whenever she wants. Sally on the other hand has no freedom whatsoever, her house serves as a prison that she cannot walk around in freely.

The key difference between Esperanza and Sally is their sexual maturity. Through Sally’s actions of flirting with boys, the reader is able to see that Sally is more sexually mature than Esperanza is. Esperanza has shown interest in boys, but she doesn't allow herself to be taken advantage by them like Sally allows. When Esperanza allows herself to be exploited she feels guilt and does her best to not remember what happened, “Sally make him stop. I couldn't make them go away. I couldn’t do anything but cry. I don’t remember. It was dark. I don't remember. I don’t remember. Please don’t make me tell it all” (Cisneros 100). When the boy comes onto Esperanza, she doesn’t know what to do and feels guilt after it happens. Even though Esperanza has shown to have interest in boys she isn’t sexually mature enough to act on those feelings. Sally on the other hand has no problem acting upon sexual feelings or actions. This is shown when Sally’s keys are taken away by Tito and his friends. Tito tells her that she will not get her keys back unless she kisses him. Esperanza tries to go get help and comes back with a brick thinking she is going to help Sally, “But when I got there Sally said go home. Those guys said leave us alone. I felt stupid with my brick. They all looked at me as if I was the one that was crazy and made me feel ashamed” (Cisneros 97). This illustrates how Sally’s experiences and sexual maturity are far above Esperanza's. To Sally kissing the boys is not a big deal to her and she allows her id to take over. Esperanza, on the contrary, sees this as serious and allows her superego to take over when she tries to get Tito’s mom to intervene. Their attitudes and actions towards boys highlights how different the two characters are in terms of sexual maturity.

Sally shows a difference in behavior by taking on a risky behavior even though she gets in trouble for it. She behaves in such a way to try to escape from her father. Her relationship with her father is a very unhealthy relationship and has become the root of her behavior. In an article “The importance of fathers in relation to their daughters’ psychosexual development”, the author Mary Williamson, explores psychoanalytic approaches to the relationship between a father and his daughter. It states that a father has an impact on the psychosexual development of their daughter. In the article, Williamson writes, “Mitchell goes on to say that, from the Freudian point of view, the father – daughter relationship is crucial to the development of femininity and the preservation of womanhood... Through her relationship with her father she will learn to relate to male expectation in general, and this would seem to be of vital importance to her later psychological happiness” (Williamson). What this is saying is that the relationship between a father and daughter is important to how the daughter grows up. With a good father in her life the daughter will have a good expectation of men and will be able to be her own woman growing up. This is shown in The House on Mango Street with the different relationships that Sally and Esperanza have with their fathers. Sally and her father have an abusive relationship and it causes Sally to engage in risky behavior. As a result of this, Sally ends up getting married to a man that is just like her father. On the other hand, Esperanza had a good relationship with her father and it allowed her to have freedom and live a happy life. She ends up being able to grow up independently and bought her own house.

Sally and Esperanza are complete polar opposites when it comes to personality. Even though they are polar opposites, Esperanza wants to be like Sally. When their differences are seen on the same page, the author is able to illustrate how different each character is from one another. Sally’s risky sexual behavior becomes her downfall when she marries someone exactly like her father. The controlling environment of her father is what causes Sally to marry a man who is a representation of her father and the nurturing environment where love is present is what builds Esperanza in the end. Through their actions and attitudes we are able to see the components of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Through their personalities and actions, the readers are able to see how Sally is truly the foil character to Esperanza in The House on Mango Street.

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The Foil Character Sally: A Psychoanalytic Approach To Cisneros’ The House On Mango Street. (2021, August 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“The Foil Character Sally: A Psychoanalytic Approach To Cisneros’ The House On Mango Street.” Edubirdie, 09 Aug. 2021,
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The Foil Character Sally: A Psychoanalytic Approach To Cisneros’ The House On Mango Street [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 09 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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