Hairs Vignette Writing Assignment Ideas
Clear and Readable, Succinct, and Poetic.
OK, you know that really great introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street that we keep telling you to read? It's really helpful in understanding why Sandra Cisneros writes the way she does. For instance, here's what Sandra Cisneros has to say about the style she developed for writing this book:
She experiments, creating a text that is as succinct and flexible as poetry, snapping sentences into fragments so that the reader pauses, making each sentence serve her and not the other way round, abandoning quotation marks to streamline the typography and make the page as simple and readable as possible. (Introduction.20)
Isn't that nice of her? Cisneros is incredibly straightforward about her writing process. After all, she's had a long career as an educator, so she wants you to understand how writing works and why she does the things she does.
So, let it be said that we totally agree with Cisneros's assessment of her own style. First off, it's readable. (As in, easy to read.) So readable, in fact, that you can pick up this book, open it to any page, and make sense of what's going on, without having any idea of what came before or what's going to happen next. Each chapter, or vignette, is its own self-contained story, while still working as part of the overall whole.
Part of this readability comes from the structure of the novel, which critics often describe as a collection of vignettes. The word vignette means "little vine" in French, and the name of the literary form comes from the drawings of little vines that nineteenth-century printers used to decorate the title pages and beginnings of chapters. So a vignette is kind of like an illustration. It's a short, descriptive passage that's more about evoking meaning through imagery than it is about plot. You'll notice that the vignettes here are all really short – some no longer than half a page – and that for the most part they're made up of short, succinct phrases. The brevity of Cisneros's language increases its readability, too. Check out "Those Who Don't" for an example of a really brief vignette.
Secondly, her style is poetic. We don't mean that it's ostentatious or flowery – to the contrary, it's natural, clear, and easy to understand. By poetic, we mean Cisneros's sentences are full of imagery, metaphors, and word games. For example, when Esperanza wants to describe what it's like having to tote her annoying baby sister around, she hits us with a snapshot image that sums up her feelings of loneliness: "Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor" (3.4).
If you listen to these phrases, you'll notice that they're sing-songy – they even play with rhyme:
There was a family. All were little. Their arms were little, and their hands were little, and their height was not tall, and their feet very small. (17.1)
Sounds like a poem, right? And how about this one:
Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (43.2)
Lesson 5: my name
Copies of “My Name,” vignette from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (attached)
“My Name” Writing Prompts Worksheets
How can writing an autobiography help deepen understanding of one’s identity?
How have the people, places and events of your past shaped who you are today?
Why is it important to reflect on one’s past?
Adolescence is a particularly sensitive life stage of questioning and trying to make sense of one’s identity.The vignette "My Name,” from Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, offers students a wonderful opportunity to explore the connection between one's name and one's sense of self.By engaging with the protagonist Esperanza’s contemplation of her name, students will also benefit from learning that one’s name can have multiple meanings through multiple perspectives.Then students will be prepared to reflect upon and write about their connections to their own names in their notebooks.
1. Prewriting Activities (12 mins):
a) Teacher asks the following warm-up question: “What is the connection between one’s name and one’s sense of self/identity?In other words, in what ways are our names meaningful?”Students share ideas with the class.
b) Teacher introduces the vignette "My Name” as a model for the lesson, and asks students to keep the following question in mind as it is read aloud to them: “In the vignette “My Name,” what does Esperanza’s name mean to her?”They may underline/highlight accordingly. (Vignette Vocab. Preview at end of this document)
c) Teacher reads the vignette aloud while students follow along with copies.
d) Teacher asks: “What did you notice about what Esperanza’s name means to her?”Students share their observations/comments, and teacher guides them in seeing how one's name can have various shades of meaning from different socio-cultural perspectives.
2. Focused Free-Writing (18 mins):
Students first write their names in large, clear print on the top of a fresh page in their notebooks, and respond to at least 3 of the following prompts (15-20 mins):
- What’s the story behind your name?How and why was it chosen for you?
- What people, places, events, things or ideas do you associate with your name?
- Do you feel like your name represents/reflects who you are? Explain why or why not.
- How would you describe the connection between your name and your sense of who you are?
- If you could change your name, would you?Why or why not?If you changed it, what would you change it to?Why?
3. Sharing (8 mins):
Student volunteers read their “gem,” their favorite line about the meaning of their names.Students should be reassured that they are encouraged to share only that with which they feel comfortable.
4. Closing (2 mins):
Teacher reminds students that what they’ve written about their names could be a passage in their autobiography, or can serve as “seeds” for related autobiography ideas.
Vignette Vocabulary Preview
Teacher can preview unfamiliar vocabulary with students prior to reading the vignette aloud:
Ø vignette – a short, descriptive literary piece
Ø sob – to cry uncontrollably
Ø chandelier – a decorative (fancy) light fixture
Ø inherit – to receive or take over from an ancestor or predecessor (I inherited my mother’s eyes.)
Lesson 5: my name
From The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
In English, my name means hope.In Spanish it means too many letters.It means sadness, it means waiting.It is like the number nine.A muddy color.It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.
It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine.She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse—which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female—but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.
My great-grandmother.I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry.Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off.Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier.That’s the way he did it.
And the story goes she never forgave him.She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be.Esperanza.I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.
At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth.But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name—Magdalena—which is uglier than mine.Magdalena who at least can come home and become Nenny.But I am always Esperanza.
I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees.Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X.Yes.Something like Zeze the X will do.
Name: ___________________________________Date: _______________
Autobiography Writing: My Name
Directions: First write your name in large, clear print on the top of a fresh page in your notebook.Then, respond to at least 3 of the following prompts in your notebook (be sure to attach this prompt sheet into your notebook for future use):
1. What’s the story behind your name?How and why was it chosen for you?
2. What people, places, events, things or ideas do you associate with your name?
3. Do you feel like your name represents/reflects who you are? Explain why or why not.
4. How would you describe the connection between your name and your sense of who you are?
5. If you could change your name, would you?Why or why not?If you changed it, what would you change it to?Why?