My favorite chapter so far has to be Gil's Furniture Bought & Sold. In this chapter we are introduced to the local junk store. Esperanza and Nenny scour the place browsing and generally wasting time. An old man watches them in case they actually want to buy something or to dissuade them for stealing. He is personified only by the golden glint in the glasses he wears shining through the darkness. The neighborhood is poor. The man doesn't even turn on the lights unless he knows there will be paying customers.
Esperanza tries to rationalize her subtle embarrassment at Nenny. Nenny actually talks to the quiet old man. She asks questions and is generally acting more mature. After Esperanza comes to the conclusion that Nenny is just more stupid than she is, Nenny discovers an old music box. Now Esperanza starts to show her immature side by hoping it is a pretty box and failing at keeping her curiosity under check. She feels she cannot allow herself to show interest in something someone younger than her likes.
The writing becomes the best when the music box is opened. Cisneros writes: "It's like all of a sudden he let go a million moths all over the dusty furniture and swan-neck shadows and in our bones." The simile doesn't need to be literally understood. It is a feeling describing to the best of her ability how deep, eerie, and influential the music has on her. She is barely able to steer herself away from the box still intent on keeping herself away from what seems like a childish toy to her. Nenny, on the other hand, is convinced. She must have the box. She is reaching for all her money as she asks how much the box costs. Both children are hit by the reply as the man closes the lid he tells them, "This? This ain't for sale."
One of the themes I feel stands out in the story is generation gap. Esperanza has always had a self-imposed restriction on herself by trying to appear more mature for Nenny's benefit. They are not too far apart in age and the idea of maturity to Esperanza is limited in knowledge so she tries to prove maturity the only way she can by not appearing interested in anything she does. No matter how pretty the music box sounds, Esperanza just cannot bring herself to like it because Nenny does. It becomes a baby toy to her. The shock comes when the man, who would sell anything, announces that the item is not for sale. What is suddenly so special about the box? As an adult reader, we can place a deeper meaning on the music box that the kids could not at the time.
Story of a Local Role Model
I was a lazy school kid. I got though school by acing tests. I never did the homework assignments or actively participated in class. Unless Michael was there. Michael had to be the most annoying creature I have ever met. He wasn't a smart kid, but was extremely smug. He thought he was better than everyone for no particular reason. He was my polar opposite. He did all the work, but tested poorly. Somehow, we'd end up with the same grade. Since I was considered a smart kid, he assumed he was just as smart and used me as a prop.
Every time we had the same class together he'd make sure to sit close to me like we were friends, compatriots, peers, equal. I knew better. Whenever he came into the classroom he would quickly scan the class, lock eyes with me, and put on this knowing, smug grin. I wanted to toss him right out the nearest window. My gut would fall to my knees and I'd seethe. He was not as smart as I was. It became my goal in life to show him the error of his ways. Like a switch had been flipped, I began raising my hand to every question asked. I completed every bit of homework. I rocked.
I never did actually brag like my inner thoughts wanted to. I had a report card full of straight As and could have laughed in his dumb face, but never did. I realized after getting my accolades that even if I did show him he wasn't as smart as he claims that I would have to concede that is was him I owed for the grades I got. I could never bring myself to admit that. Also, if anyone ever told him this, I'd deny it publicly.