Tips for Essay 1


1.         Invoke the discourse of semiotics:


Sign, sign-for-analysis, signifier, signified/signifies


Linguistic and / or discursive sign systems

Signifying practices

Signification(s) (what a sign means)

Ideologies, pre-existing frameworks, cultural values and outlooks, “master narratives,” socio-historical productions, etc.

polysemic (signs signify in many ways)

Context (signs exists within a semiotic context or framework)

Socially-shared and/or socially-situated codes and conventions


2.       Seek to denaturalize those discursive and cultural sign systems that create a certain kind of reality, one that appears to be “natural,” permanent, given. What sign systems (social, textual, aesthetic, ideological) construct–or perhaps challenge–a perception of reality in Mango Street (for the reader or for the characters)? What sign systems (cultural, historical, ideological, textual) does Cisneros denaturalize, expose as being socio-linguistic productions? To what effect?


3.       Remember, sign systems are not neutral; they “help to naturalize and reinforce particular framings of ‘the way things are,’ although the operation of ideology in signifying practices is typically masked” (Daniel Chandler). Our task is to expose the “operations of ideology” that are both embedded in and “masked” by these signs. Whose ideology or value system do the signs represent – to what effect?


4.       Remember that signs can generate multiple, even contradictory meanings. Focus on “multi-dimentional” signs, signs that connect to a tissue of multiple significations and that play out in interesting ways in the text at large.