My thesis proposes a theory of relational identity development in Chicana literature. Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera offers an interpretation of Chicana identity that is largely based on historical models and mythology, which many scholars have found useful in interpreting Chicana literature. However, I contend that another text, Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street, not only illustrates the need for an alternative paradigm for considering identity development, but in fact offers such an alternative. I argue that Cisneros shows a model for relational identity development, wherein the individual develops in the context of her community and is not determined solely by elements of myth or genealogy. In questioning the historical paradigm of identity development, I examine three key aspects associated with Chicana identity development: gender, home, and language. Employing the theories of Édouard Glissant, I discuss how individual identity development is better understood in terms of relationships and experience rather than historical models. For Chicanas, the roles of women have largely been interpreted as predetermined, set by the mythic figures La Malinche and La Virgen de Guadalupe. However, Cisneros's work shows that this historical tradition is less fruitful in understanding identity than recognizing individuals' experience in context of their relationships. With this communal understanding established, I question the common associations of home and Chicana identity. I argue that Cisneros challenges our very concept of home as she engages and counters the notions of theorist Gaston Bachelard. The idea of a house is metaphorical, becoming a space of communal belonging rather than a physical structure to separate individuals. Finally, I consider how both spoken and written language contribute to relational identity development. I argue that Cisneros's use of language demonstrates that not only does language provide the means for development within a community, but also the means for creation within that society. The theoretical implications of such a relational identity construct are not only an expansion of what is entailed in Chicana identity, but an invitation for broadening the community of theoretical discussion surrounding Chicana literature.



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


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Cisneros, Chicana, Bachelard, Poetics of Space, Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Arteaga, Anzaldua, Mexican-American, Latino, The House on Mango Street, Malinche, Guadalupe, relational identity, Bildungsroman, identity, gender, house in literature, language, Woman Hollering Creek, Borderlands, La Frontera, mestiza