By Grace Kingsbury, V Form
The Apple Does Not Fall Far From The Tree: On Cisneros’ “The Family of Little Feet”
Everyone has heard the saying, “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” but is there any truth to it? In “The Family of Little Feet” from The House On Mango Street, Esperanza plays a game of dress-up with her friends, Rachel and Lucy. They are given old high heeled shoes and strut around Mango Street, flaunting their beautiful shoes and long legs. The three girls are catcalled by many older men in the neighborhood, but they enjoy the attention. In the short story “Girl,” the girl is taught of chores that are expected of young women by her mother. Her mother stresses the importance of maintaining a positive reputation and looks down on promiscuity. Due to the differences in their upbringing, Esperanza expresses her sexuality whereas the girl suppresses hers as seen in their prominent accepted hobbies, varying feedback, and female role models.
The activities that Esperanza and the girl learn from others dictate how they act, particularly around men. For example, when “[Rachel taught Esperanza] to cross and uncross [her] legs, and to run like double-dutch rope, and how to walk down the corner so that the shoes talk back” (Cisneros 40), Esperanza learns these actions are normalized, so she expresses her sexuality with pleasing others in mind. Contrarily, the mother teaches the girl how to “behave in the presence of men don’t know you very well” so that they wouldn’t “recognize [the girl] immediately as the slut [her mother had] warned [her] against becoming” (Kincaid 321). This scolding exemplifies how the girl’s mother is teaching her how to act. The girl fulfills her mother’s wishes by ignoring her femininity in an effort to preserve her reputation around strange men. Consequently, both young women learn how to act from those around them, which also encompasses sexual exhibition. Esperanza follows Rachel’s example and becomes sexually suggestive, whereas the girl follows her mother’s orders and is dissolves that part of herself.
While Esperanza is rewarded by her community for expressing her sexuality, the girl is bombarded with negative feedback from her mother for this same trait. This shapes each girl’s belief of what is acceptable. Esperanza begins to see her sexuality in a positive light when the men of Mango Street say things such as, “Ladies, lead me to heaven” (Cisneros 41). In praising Esperanza, they encourage her to continue her actions. Alternatively, the girl’s mother discourages her from expressing her suggestibility by saying, “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say after all you are really going to be the kind of woman the baker won’t let near bread?” (Kincaid 321).
The mother insinuates that to live a normal life and do things such as buy bread properly, the girl must follow her instructions. This negative feedback leads to the girl to reject her femininity. Each young woman shapes her view on her own sexuality based on the reactions of others. Esperanza is greeted with positive reinforcement, so she embraces her sexuality, but the girl is met by negative reinforcement, so she dismisses it.
Esperanza’s female role model, Rachel, is enthralled by her own femininity, whereas the girl’s female role model, her mother, is very austere regarding the expression of any sensuality. These individuals shape what the young women believe to be the typical sexual expression. For instance, Rachel is intoxicated by the attention she receives when she wears the high heels. She was too “young and dizzy to hear so many sweet things in one day” (Cisneros 41). Her reception of the positive attention she receives tells Esperanza that promiscuous behavior is acceptable. As a result of this Esperanza becomes engrossed in her own sexuality. Conversely, the mother in “Girl” strongly advocates for the nullification of her daughter’s promiscuity. She tells the girl, “…prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming” in order to discourage this behavior, which teaches the girl to suppress her sexuality (Kincaid 320). In each of these cases, the way the role models act dictates the relationship the young women have with their own sexuality.
Esperanza grows up in a community in which she is surrounded by lust. Her role models, her actions, and her community all reflect this integral part of her upbringing. Contrarily, the girl grows up in a strict household in which her mother discourages promiscuous behavior. The effect upbringing can have on an individual’s character, illustrated by Esperanza and the girl, reflects patterns in the real world. For example, research compiled by the Urban Child Institute found that children raised in negative home environments were linked with “a host of developmental problems, including… aggression, anxiety… depression, [and] teen parenthood” (Urban Child Institute). This means that upbringing has a significant long term impact on children, and Esperanza and the girl are not exempt from this concept. Essentially, societal or familial pressures strongly influence susceptible, young girls, so the apple does not fall far from the tree.
Grace Kingsbury is a V Former from New York City. Her favorite classes are Ms. Caron’s Books Without Borders and Mr. Corliss’ Advanced Environmental Class.