The Tortilla Curtain Suggested Essays
by T.C. Boyle
Suggested Essay Questions
Environmentalism shows up many times throughout the novel. How does it fit in with the overarching theme of racism and the relationship between immigrants and white Americans?
The concern that people like Delaney show for animals and the environment is a result of their fascination with the world outside of their regimented, structured lives. Animals and plants do not follow a schedule, often to the inconvenience of the humans around them, and this freedom and lack of inhibition intrigue people like Delaney and Kyra. In the same way, the Mexican immigrants are examples of what is viewed as an untamed, irregular force. Some of them are such in the stereotypical way that people in Arroyo Blanco view them, drunkards and criminals, but the majority express this reckless spirit in their day to day lives not by choice but because of their circumstances, lacking the jobs and responsibilities that would in turn lend organization to their lives.
Analyze the role of the coyote and its significance in the novel.
The coyote is symbolic of the typical Mexican immigrant, and the term is even used to describe such people. The actions of the animal coyotes in the novel, which involve cunning and trickery in order to survive in a world dominated by white people, are mirrored in the measures that immigrants such as Cándido and América take in order to stay alive. Analyzing the Americans' perceptions and relationships to the coyote provides another perspective on the relationships between these people and the immigrants in their community.
José Navidad's character is accepted by neither Americans nor Mexicans in the course of the story. Is this a result of his own actions, or are his actions a result of this lack of acceptance? Why?
It can be argued that José Navidad may have turned into the shady, evil man that he is in the novel due because of how he was treated in the past. América sees the hurt and pain in his eyes when she first meets him at the labor exchange, it is very clear throughout the course of the story that he is persecuted by people of both races. His actions, then, may be a way of lashing back out at those around him, a way for him to strike back at those who treat him so cruelly.
When in conversation with his friends and neighbors, Delaney expresses that he is in direct opposition with the building of a gate and a wall around Arroyo Blanco for various reasons. However, when given the chance to act upon his opinions, he chooses not to. Explain why you think this is.
Delaney does not actively campaign against the building of the gate or the well simply because, in reality, he is not opposed to them, at least not enough to want to endure some familial discord in his home. Though he says things to make others believe that he has very liberal values, he really does not, as can be witnessed from the very beginning of the novel, for example, and how he treats Cándido after hitting him with his car. As he unravels throughout the novel, this becomes clearer and clearer, and by the end of the book his true feelings about immigrants and safety have been revealed.
Discuss the novel's structure of alternating back and forth between the Rincóns and the Mossbachers. Does this add to the story's potency?
The structure used by Boyle allows a close comparison of two completely different lifestyles. It places side-by-side the reactions of people from completely different walks of life, resulting in a unique analysis of the relationship between the two groups of people. This certainly enhances the thoughts and emotions experienced by readers, since placing two radically different perspectives next to one another increases the perceived emotion in each.
How does the concept of walls and boundaries play a role in the novel?
The concept of walls, both literal and figurative, is one of the central themes of The Tortilla Curtain. In a novel about immigration, this concept is vital, for immigration is all about the crossing of boundaries and the changing of environments on both sides of the wall. In this novel, the walls form a barrier between two very different worlds, worlds which are both frightened and fascinated by one another. For more details, see the "Walls" portion of the Major Themes section.
One criticism that frequently arises is that Boyle uses too much satire when describing the lives of the Mossbachers, making it seem as though he favors the lives of the immigrants in a novel where he is supposed to remain neutral. Is this the case? Why or Why not?
There is no doubt that the sections of the book describing the life in Arroyo Blanco contain much more irony and humor than do the sections describing the lives of the Rincóns. However, it can be argued that such satire is necessary in order to really point out the differences between the two lives being contrasted. While the sections about the immigrants are naturally touching and powerful, the sections about the middle class American life may seem rather mundane and boring, especially since many of the readers are probably leading that life and do not need it described to them. Thus, the satire becomes a tool to highlight the specific aspects of that life that Boyle would like to focus on.
How do the Mossbachers' and the Rincóns' attitudes regarding luck differ? Do these differing attitudes factor into their differing lifestyles?
The Rincóns are much more avid believers in luck and superstition, as is evidenced by their constant references to various superstitions and to their tendencies towards unluckiness. The Mossbachers, on the other hand, seem more prone to blaming others for the bad things that happen to them rather than blaming luck. While this seems to be more less noble, it also puts them in a role with more power rather than in the role of a victim, as the Rincóns' attitudes do. Instead of sitting back and accepting the downfalls, they can go out and try to fix the problem, although the success level of their efforts is another matter entirely.
There is no doubt that both the Rincóns and the Mossbachers are striving for their own American dreams. Compare and contrast the dreams of each family and the obstacles that they must face in order to achieve them.
The American dream that the Rincóns strive for is essentially what the Mossbachers already have: a comfortable life with a steady source of income and a plentiful supply of food. However, without steady jobs and facing persecution for being Mexicans, there is a very good chance that their dream will never be achieved and that they will have to go back home to Mexico. The Mossbachers, specifically Kyra dream of excess, wanting even bigger houses and nicer cars, and with an income and a social status like hers, the achievement of her dream may not be that far off. It is ironic that the American dream, a concept meant for immigrants and those with few means, is only truly realistic to families that are already established.
The fight between José Navidad and Delaney is a significant landmark in the steady rise of Delaney's racist tendencies. Why did this exposure of Delaney's true values occur? What events pushed him to that point?
The journey that brought Delaney to that violent outburst on Thanksgiving Day can be traced back to his accident involving Cándido. It was an accident that forced him to interact face to face with one of the immigrants he had always talked about. It forced him to truly recognize one of the people whom he usually skimmed over, and once you have interacted like that it is not as easy to maintain the idealistic attitudes that form solely based on abstract ideas and second-hand stories. From there, a series of misfortunes which threaten Delaney's ordered world wear down his patience, and by the time Thanksgiving comes and he is face to face with Navidad, he no longer cares about upholding his "liberal" values. He simply wants to eliminate the force responsible for threatening the structure of his life.
The Tortilla Curtain Essays and Related Content
- The Tortilla Curtain: Major Themes
- The Tortilla Curtain: Essays
- The Tortilla Curtain: Questions
- The Tortilla Curtain: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- T.C. Boyle: Biography
- The Tortilla Curtain Summary
- About The Tortilla Curtain
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters 7 & 8
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 7 & 8
- Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 7 & 8
- Consequences of Illegal Immigration to the United States
- Related Links on The Tortilla Curtain
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources