The Stories We Tell

How do people share or express the stories that matter to them? I think that the most common way that people share their stories is through words. However, as the saying goes, “where words fail, music speaks.” Of course, music can be substituted with a variety of mediums: the visual arts, pastimes, etc. My purpose is to explore the different ways that people express themselves, and how that outlet in it of itself contributes to their story and its importance.


In the novel, The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros tells short stories that matter to her through the persona of a young girl named Esperanza. After looking into the character of the author and the narrator, the reader can identify that Sandra and Esperanza have many similarities from their home life to their internal thoughts. Within the story, Esperanza and the others also share their own stories in their own ways, whether they know it or not. Because her Mexican culture is such an important component of who she is, Cisneros shares it with others in her vignettes of the book, The House on Mango Street.

Sandra Cisneros tells the reader about her own culture and personality through Esperanza. Cisneros and her parents come from humble backgrounds. She has served some time as a counselor for high school dropouts, and empathized with countless people’s stories. Both Cisneros’ childhood experiences and adult life may have served as inspiration for her novel. Poverty, cultural differences, a male-dominated community, and warped imagination are recurring themes in her book; all elements of her past life, her childhood memories, all things that contributed to the person who grew beyond that. In chapter 35, Beautiful and Cruel, it may be interpreted that we are reading the thoughts of Cisneros herself through Esperanza. Esperanza wants to be an independent woman, deciding “not to stay tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain” (88). She wishes to be like the women in the movies, whose “power is her own. She will not give it away” (89). Cisneros shared the same mentality growing up. When asked why she chose not to marry, she responded by explaining that she was married to her work, and her writing is her children. “I don’t want anything to come between us,” she said in an interview with Pilar E. Rodríguez.

Esperanza tells her own story through the eyes of her audience. Using imagery, synesthesia, and diction, the audience experiences Esperanza’s childhood right along side her. Even when she describes simple subjects, like the hairs on her mother’s head, she captures the reader. Esperanza engages all the senses when she writes. We, as the audience see the “little rosettes,” we smell the “sweet [aroma],” we hear “the rain outside falling and Papa snoring,” we taste the “warm bread,” and we feel her mother’s warm touch “holding you, holding you and you feel safe” (6-7). Comparisons to everyday objects brighten the essay and transport the reader to the small home on Mango Street. Esperanza records her experiences and thoughts, like in the entry, “Four Skinny Trees,” and other times she uses other’s stories to define her community and to learn from their story, like in “Edna’s Ruthie.”img_5698-1


Cisneros’ characters implicitly tell their own stories through their actions. Minerva tells her story through sad poems. Because “she is always sad like a house on fire” (85), she uses poetry as an outlet for her depression. Esperanza’s mother tells a story through her mothering. She is a well rounded person who spends her time sewing clothes, singing to her children, fixing things around the house, and especially encouraging her children to go to school. She shares with them that “shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You want to know why I quit school? Because I didn’t have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains” (91). In this short chapter, Esperanza’s mother wants her children to learn from her past– not to make the same mistakes. She was capable and talented, but she abandoned her potential because she didn’t meet society’s standards of appearance. Her history serves as a learning experience for her children. Other characters say something about themselves less subtly. Sally’s bruises show that she is abused by her father. Home is not a safe haven for her, and she tries to find that haven in social acceptance. She wants to be loved, however she doesn’t understand the difference between receiving love, and being an object of lust. Sally is an example of how someone can share their story through their appearance and conduct. ‘Mamacita’ tells her story simply through the language that she uses. The conflicting cultures is a difficult change for her. To her, “home is a house in a photograph, a pink house…The man paints the walls of the apartment pink, but it’s not the same, you know” (77). She cries to be home; she doesn’t fit in in the community and refuses to learn or speak English.



Photo ©2013 by xiquinhosilva [CC-by-2.0]

A community makes a statement about the buildings that are central to it, and each building makes a statement about the people that are central to it. A large group of engineers and architects came together to build the China Central Television Building (CCTV) in Beijing, and the structure is not at all ordinary, but has a purpose and meaning of its own. Its shape is one massive loop, signifying that every job within the building is connected and dependent upon the others. “The organizational structure of this building was a hybrid between the technical and the social. The human and the performative,” says Ole Scheeren. The building was not built with competitive verticality as its priority, as most corporate skyscrapers are, but to serve as a living organism with a circulatory system that works to connect different organs in collaboration. Its purpose is to unite functions, not to isolate them. Communities inhabit the building and the people are what bring it to life. Thus, the design was built with both the employed and the public in mind as a focal point.


Photo ©2016 by Mike Cartmell [CC-by-2.0]

The engineers and architects of these “Vertical Village” apartments in Singapore posed a question: “How can we create a communal environment in which sharing things was as great as having your own?” Privacy is good, but focusing on only the individuality and isolation of homes is not. The purpose of these living spaces was not to seclude people, but rather the opposite. The structure of this village is one complete with social courtyards and a highly mathematical interconnecting of toppled towers. The interlaced design accomplishes their goal “to connect the human beings and the spaces alike.”


A floating cinema off the coast of Thailand. Architects modeled it after the structure Thai fishermen use in their crab cages. For this obscure attraction, in order to get the most accurate and effective design, the engineers spoke with many of the locals and get their insight on the matter. This cinema is representative of the people who attend; it is connected to their fishing culture and draws many people to it. Scheeren put it perfectly when he stated, “I believe that architecture exceeds the domain of physical matter, of the built environment, but is really about how we want to live our lives, how we script our own stories and those of others.”


Composers and performers alike use music to narrate their stories. Program music is defined as “music that is intended to evoke images or convey the impression of events.” Despite whether or not a piece is classified as program music, each musical work of art makes a statement about the composer or the time period he was living in. In Bach’s first Italian Partita, BWV 825, the touch within the Prelude is comparable to pointillism in an impressionistic painting, or a lace collar from the eighteenth century. The music defines the elegant fashion, the renaissance grotesque, and brilliance of the time period. (My performance of this piece can be found at this site.)


Photo ©2005 by Malta Girl

Other musicians narrate true events that have occurred in history. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture literally narrates the story of the Napoleon and his army’s march and retreat to and from Russia. As revolutionaries approach the palace, the French national anthem swells. As men leave their families to march to war, harmonious folk tunes sing out. Cannons fire in the orchestra. Bleak winter blizzards overwhelm the audience. Prayers are voiced by using religious themes and subjects within the music. Tchaikovsky also wrote a number of incredible program music; lyrics were put to his ‘Sleeping Beauty Waltz’ and incorporated into the Disney film as ‘Once Upon a Dream’. Different interpretations to his ballet, ‘Swan Lake’ have been performed throughout the decades. Perhaps his most popular ballet to this day is ‘The Nutcracker’ due to its ties to the Christmas season.

In addition, composers use music to describe a scene in nature or in the community. Vivaldi is best known for his violin concertos, “The Four Seasons.” Each concerto is paired with a sonnet, broken up into three sections thoroughly describing the interpretation of the each of the three movements within each concerto. Spring (E Major) is filled with joy and life, but rain and storms are imminent. Summer (g minor) brings heat that burns the crops and storms that flood the fields. Autumn (F Major) has a rich organic tone, initiating the celebratory harvest. Finally, Winter (f minor) is icy and teeth chatter in the score, but the characters find warmth and joy inside by the fire while the weather rages outside. Another example of this type of composition is Camille Saint-Saёns’ humorous presentation in his famous, “The Carnival of the Animals.” Each movement represents a different animal, from lions and elephants to kangaroos and birds. Some movements are satirical; his ‘Pianist’ movement is a parody of a pianist’s technique exercises and scales he practices. Movement number four is an augmentation Offenbach’s “Can-Can.” The irony is in the fact that the “Can-Can” is a piece that flies at a high-speed tempo, and Saint-Saёns used it for his slow movement, ‘The Tortoise.’


I couldn’t try to write on the different ways to tell stories without considering the visual arts. The earliest form of writing and communication was the cavemen painting images of their lifestyle on the walls. Sumerians used images to create one of the first known written languages, and used it to write down the first story: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Hieroglyphs used by the ancient Egyptians were representative pictures from different aspects of their daily life: worshipping gods, hunting, gathering, and different important events that occurred in their history.

In the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, 284 of the 533 pages are filled with pictures. The character development, setting, and the plot advancement rely and depend upon the pictures as much as they do the words of the book. It is a cross between a narrative and a graphic novel. It’s almost as if the audience is reading a movie, which is likely the reason it is so well-liked.


Photo ©2011 by Citizen59 [CC-by-2.0]

A representative from the Getty Museum explains that “artists can present narrative in many ways—by using a series of images representing moments in a story, or by selecting a central moment to stand for the whole story. Narrative works often illustrate well-known historical, religious, legendary, or mythic stories. Sometimes, however, artists invent their own stories, leaving the viewer to imagine the narrative.” Since the day artists began to paint, they have written stories ranging from fictional tales and interpretations of myths to a reaction to politics and scenes in nature. Picasso painted Guernica, one of his most famous works, as a reaction to the casual bombing of Spanish towns during World War II. Diego Rivera painted a vast number of murals displaying his socialist values, a very controversial statement.


I am sure that there are countless more ways that people share their stories on a daily basis. From fashion statements to leisure activities, we all tell our own audience a part of the story of our lives, consciously or not. Maybe that’s why a first impression is important. What story do you tell?


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