Treating Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street and Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker as Erziehungsroman—that is, stories whose coming-of-age process depends on the characters' education—reveals the similar process that both Esperanza Cordero and Henry Park experience as they navigate the 1960s and 1970s American school system. The most important obstacle in Esperanza's and Henry's ability to achieve academically is the contract of vagueness, the tacit agreement between federal education policy and English language learning (ELL) students to misunderstand one another. Differing cultural conceptions of education perpetuate this mutually detrimental relationship between education policy and ELL students, forcing Henry and Esperanza to choose between satisfying the cultural expectations of their ethnic communities and fulfilling the cultural expectations of their schools, a decision which initially appears mutually exclusive. Exacerbated by their school experiences, both Henry and Esperanza go through a process of rejecting and reclaiming their ethnicity as they come to terms with their ethnic identity. That both characters eventually turn to social advocacy as a solution not only to their own educational struggles but also to the ghettoization of their ethnic communities suggests cosmopolitanism as a solution to the constraints of the contract of vagueness, both for Henry and Esperanza and for their ethnic communities.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Chang-rae Lee, Sandra Cisneros, Native Speaker, The House on Mango Street, education, ESL, ELL, contract of vagueness