It is often that the smallest actions or decisions we make have the biggest impact on our lives. Likewise, in literature, minor characters often have important roles to play, either to convey a large theme or message, or to simply prove a point. In the novella, The House on Mango Street, written by Sandra Cisneros, Cisneros uses the minor characters, namely, Geraldo and Alicia, to illustrate the themes of racial prejudice and gender roles.
In the vignette, titled “Geraldo No Last Name”, Cisneros uses the minor character of Geraldo to portray the role of a minority race in the United Sates, specifically, the Spanish minority. Geraldo’s character is involved in a hit and run and tragically dies at the hospital he is taken to. Marin, who was the last person to see Geraldo, is questioned “twice [by] the police”; therefore this implies that Cisneros was trying to show how society was trying to find an excuse for Geraldo’s death. In addition to this, Cisneros characterizes Geraldo as “just another brazer” or “wetback”, suggesting that he is an immigrant who jumped the border. She also uses a rhetorical question, asking “what does it matter?”, therefore showing that the death of Geraldo is not important. Cisneros further illustrates the theme of racial prejudice by using the repletion of the phrase “if the surgeon had come”, proposing that Geraldo’s death could have been prevented but society chose not to because he was an immigrant with only a first name. As a result, Geraldo’s minor role in this novella as a minority race has depicted the reality of many people today who are in similar situations. Also, Cisneros has shown the social criticism of mainstream society’s treatment of immigrants as dispensable and second-class human beings.
In addition to racial prejudice, the theme of gender roles in a society is also explored in this novella through the minor character of Alicia. Alicia, introduced into this novella in the vignette titled, “Alicia Who Sees Mice”, is characterized as a hard working girl that has dreams and aspirations to be more than just another Hispanic. However, she is trapped by her duties and role as the mother of her household, keeping her away from achieving her goals. Cisneros uses the symbol of mice to illustrate Alicia’s fears, or in other words, everything that is blocking her path from accomplishing her dreams. In this case, the mice represent Alicia’s fear of poverty.
Alicia wants to study and go to university so that she can provide for herself; however, the traditional role of women in Hispanic culture is to cook, clean and take care of the children in one’s household. In addition to her fear of poverty, Alicia is afraid of her father. By Cisneros illustrating that Alicia’s father cannot see the mice that Alicia is afraid of she implies that Alicia’s father is oblivious to their poverty or that he does not care. In addition to this, when Alicia complains about the mice to her father, he says that “a woman’s place is sleeping so she can wake up early with the tortilla star”. By using the metaphor of the tortilla star, Cisneros is illustrating Alicia’s duties as well as the fact that Alicia should not be up late at night to study but rather awake in the early morning to make breakfast for her family. Therefore, as a result, Cisneros uses Alicia’s minor role to show how the gender of people in a Hispanic culture may influence the actions in which they can partake in.
In conclusion, minor characters are included in the story for a reason. Each character has a purpose, large or small, that is symbolic or adds on to the story. Geraldo and Alicia, two very different characters, played their roles as minor characters to demonstrate the themes of racial prejudice and gender roles in society. Although their roles were very small, both characters successfully represented some of the most current issues we are facing in society today.