Tangerine Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Sports play an important role in Tangerine. Compare and contrast the role of soccer in the novel to that of football. What accounts for the differences between these sports? How might both of these games stand in as allegories for other social dynamics at work in Tangerine?

    Soccer, in Tangerine, is the game that brings people together, while football seems to literally ruin lives. By finding a place on the Tangerine War Eagles, Paul Fisher feels valued. He experiences respect through his team and he is appreciated beyond his role on the field. There are many lengthy sections where Paul analyzes the game in play; in doing this he reveals the way that the game brings all players together. The respect that he gets from his team off the field is connected to the loyalty that each player partakes in on the field. In stark contrast to soccer, football is described as a game of individuality. The players do things to undermine each other’s success on the field and they aren’t loyal to each other off the field. Erik and Arthur laugh about Joey’s death, and Antoine supports Luis against Erik and Arthur. But while football is the game that the Tangerine community is investing in and banking on, soccer is the game of the poor families.

  2. 2

    The forces of nature make themselves felt in Tangerine in ways that affect the outcome of the story. Consider the role of nature in the novel. In what ways is nature like another character? Discuss the place of this character in the broader story.

    Nature is an equalizing force in the novel. Unlike many of the social forces, it doesn’t discriminate between different groups. In this way it acts as a reminder that everyone in the novel is fundamentally the same. The people of Lake Windsor Downs live in a sterile community intended to look perfect. But the people of Lake Windsor have no control over what lies beneath them: a faulty foundation of decaying, termite ridden tangerine groves. They also have no control over the lightning that continues to strike the housing development, the muck fires that stink up the atmosphere or the sinkhole that opens up under their middle school. The poor families of Tangerine are also affected by the forces of nature; but unlike the people of Lake Windsor who try to patch over their problems and deny Mr. Donnelly the right to a lightning rod (for the sake of appearances), the families of Tangerine come together when nature uses its forces against them.

  3. 3

    For most of the novel Paul is afraid of Erik. He also avoids talking about Erik with his parents about the mystery of his damaged vision. Discuss the nature of Paul’s fears. Why might he be afraid of asking his parents what happened to his eyes?

    In many ways the Fisher family is like a cult devoted to Erik. Paul’s fear of Erik is not unrelated to his parents’ adoration of Erik. A part of what makes Erik so scary is how it seems that he can do no wrong in the parents’ eyes. There’s little evidence to show that Paul would be heard if he chose to speak up about Erik or he if questioned Erik; indeed, in the rare moments that Paul suggests something negative to his parents about Erik, we see them quickly dismiss his suggestions. The only way for Paul to truly overcome his fears of Erik will be to take on the whole problem. That problem is not just Erik: it’s also Mr. and Mrs. Fisher and their ways of enabling and encouraging Erik’s bad behavior.

  4. 4

    Discrimination happens in many ways in Tangerine. Discuss the causes and effects of discrimination in the novel.

    On the surface, the differences between the two main communities in Tangerine is the difference of wealth. While Lake Windsor is upper middle class; the people of Tangerine are of a working class—specifically fieldworkers. This difference becomes the source of discrimination that runs both ways. The people of Tangerine are subject to abuses from Lake Windsor people. We see this play out violently between Erik Fisher and the Cruz family. The Cruz family in turn is defensive against Lake Windsor people. They presume they are being discriminated against, and for a time, they don’t trust Paul. They come from a place where family loyalty defines life; therefore they expect Paul to stick with his people. What they don’t recognize is that Paul sees through the discrimination and sides with working people who’ve been subjected to unfair attacks. He also has first hand experience with discrimination himself: all his life Paul has been teased and bullied because of his eyes.

  5. 5

    An important theme in the novel is the perfection of images. On the surface, everything appears just so in Lake Windsor Downs. Analyze surfaces, facades and appearances in Tangerine.

    In Tangerine everything is not what it seems. Under the literal surface of the earth there are rotting, termite-infested tangerine groves, as well as smoldering lignite fires. Under the façade of the Fisher family's perfection is the lie that Paul’s parents have told him about his damaged vision and the violent and sociopathic behavior of their eldest son that has never been addressed. But it’s not only the Fisher family that lives in a state of denial of what it is: the entire community of Lake Windsor is involved in burying the truth.