The Tortilla Curtain Summary and Analysis
by T.C. Boyle
Part I, Chapters 7 & 8
Chapter seven opens with Delaney cooking dinner for Kyra. Realizing that he has no pasta, he is forced to make a trip to the supermarket, taking a reluctant Jordan with him and thus tearing him away from his computer games. Once at the supermarket, he leaves Jordan in the car with his video game and runs in, hoping to spend as little time there as possible. Those hopes are dashed as soon as he runs into Jack Jardine, who comments on Delaney's passionate appearance at the town hall meeting the other night. The two get into a discussion about the gate. Delaney calls it "irresponsible," citing his belief in a democratic society, while Jardine cites safety concerns, going as far as saying that such safety measurements will be necessary until the borders can be controlled. Delaney is outraged at this statement, countering that the United States is a nation of immigrants. The two go back and forth, arguing the benefits and detriments of immigrants in the United States until Jack's son, Jack Jr., runs into them. The three head to the cash registers, and as they go, Jack assumes his role as a politician, trying to reconcile the argument between himself and Delaney. Once all three of them have checked out, they have moved past the argument.
Outside of the supermarket, Jack and Delaney are discussing problem of feeding the coyotes when they hear an altercation going on across the parking lot. Delaney is truly shocked to see that the recipient of the racist remarks being thrown out by the large, burly white man is none other than Cándido, or, as Delaney knows him, the man he hit with his car. He feels a mixture of anger and guilt, outraged that this ingrate is hassling people yet ashamed when he sees Cándido's scarred face. The white man angrily shoves the Mexican, eliciting a cry from the latter. Upon seeing this, Jack Jr. clenches his fists, while his father merely looks away in distaste. Cándido madly apologizes to the three men, not seeming to recognize Delaney before he turns and walks away.
Meanwhile, Kyra is at the Da Ros place, not doing a very good job of trying to sell the place to Louisa and Bill Greutert. From the way that she is phrasing her words, it is clear that she does not want to sell the place, managing to put a negative spin on the home's large size and even on it's out of the way location, even though Bill had told her that the couple was looking for a remote home, away from the immigrant-filled inner city. Louisa can sense Kyra's unwillingness to sell the home, and it is something that surprises even Kyra herself. She has never felt this way about a house before, and it is showing in her inability to even socialize properly with the Greuterts. After two and a half hours, they tell Kyra that the place is not for them, and, despite having stood to gain double the commission on the house, Kyra is glad.
The next morning, Delaney contemplates writing a series of columns on introduced species in the canyon. However, he cannot focus on his writing, unable to get the encounter with the Mexican, as he knows Cándido, out of his mind. He feels almost angry at him, placing himself in a victimized role for having been emotionally extorted out of twenty dollars. Delaney even compares Cándido to the beggars in India who mutilate themselves and their children in order to more effectively beg on the streets. He decides to go for his afternoon hike early, eager to check out a year-long stream down in the canyon. He packs a good amount of hiking equipment and takes off, parking his expensive white car on the side of the road. The beautiful day already has him in a better mood, but soon enough his mood is dampened when he stumbles upon two dirty sleeping bags and a considerable amount of litter. Surprisingly, however, his first emotion is embarrassment, not anger. He feels as though he is intruding in someone else's bedroom, but he keeps going. Although the image of the Mexican had popped into his head, he suppressed it, refusing to let his day be ruined. The beauty of the canyon puts the mess out of his mind until he hears the voices of two men up ahead. It is then that Delaney remembers the story of a girl from the birding class he'd taken years before. The girl, cute, with a pleasing figure, had been hiking the streams of Big Tujunga Creek when she ran into a group of five men who she thought were either Mexicans or Armenians. As she turned her back on them to hike away, they grabbed her, and it is implied that they raped her. Angry that his day had been ruined, Delaney tried to sneak away but ended up running straight into none other than José Navidad and his friend in the poncho. The man is getting out a piece of gum and seems almost as surprised as Delaney and tells him that they, too, are hiking. Even angrier than ever, Delaney internally blames them for the mess which he encountered and hikes away, followed by the man's wish for him to have a good day. Irritated by such an easy hike in such an exposed, open area, Delaney passes the construction going on on the road when he suddenly realizes that his car has been stolen. Thinking it may have been towed, he asks some of the construction workers if they saw anything, only to find that they do not speak English. The head of the road crew, however, informs him that nothing has been towed in that area. Thus, Delaney is forced to walk up to the Chinese store, Li's Market, to call his wife and to tell her that his car has been stolen. The whole time, all he can picture is Cándido driving his car away.
The last chapter of Part I returns once more to Cándido in the parking lot of the supermarket. He is waiting there for América, since that is one of the only places she knows and thus where she would look for him. He is relieved when he sees her get out of Shirley's car, yet at the same time he is ashamed that she was forced to provide for the two of them. He follows her into the supermarket and finds her joyful that she had earned money for the first time in her life - however, there are also traces of shame in her expression which Cándido cannot explain. Nevertheless, the two are overjoyed at being able to buy a decent amount of food, ignoring the suspicious looks of their fellow shoppers. They head down to the ravine, Cándido instructing América to take off her clothes for the trip across the lake to the campsite. The two spend the night enjoying their food and each other, feeling much happier for the first time in days.
The next day, both Cándido and América head to the labor exchange, since Cándido had been strong enough to climb out of the ravine the day before. América is excited that they both can work, for that meant that she would get her dream home sooner. However, despite being among the first ones there and attempting to hide his injuries, Cándido is rejected by employer after employer. At about 9:30, Jim Shirley returns to pick up América for a second day of scrubbing Buddha statues. Upon seeing his car, América's insides seize up in fear in a way that she had never felt before, remembering the hand of the man in her lap. Despite this, she gets in the car, imagining the $25 that she would earn. Mary is not there to join her today. She gets in the car alone and drives away with Jim, leaving Cándido at the labor exchange.
Back at Jim Shirley's house, América goes back to work scraping away at the Buddhas. Today, however, the work is much more painful for some reason. The fumes were affecting her eyes much more than they had the previous day, causing them to constantly water. Furthermore, Jim had forgotten to give her gloves, and as a result, the corrosive cleaning materials were eating away at her hands. However, she is too timid to ask for gloves, scared that the patrón will walk in on her and yell at her for not working hard enough. Finally, her fingers burning, head spinning, and body telling her that she needed to use the bathroom, she opens a door in her tiny room to reveal an adorable pink and white bathroom where she could relieve herself and wash her hands, although she did not use the towels for fear of dirtying them. América is so entranced by the bathroom that she sits in there for several minutes, daydreaming of what her life could be like in the future, until a loud noise from upstairs scares her back into work. However, three Buddhas later, the pain on her hands is too much to handle, and she goes to find her employer. After wandering around the large house for a little bit, she finally finds him and pantomimes her request. He seems simply irritated with her but gets her the gloves and slams the door shut after her. She gets through the rest of her day by imagining the food that she and Cándido had made the previous night. Jim comes back to get her at exactly six, not acknowledging her hard work at all. Today, he does not lay his hand in her lap, simply kicking her out of the car with the $25.
América stands in the parking lot of the supermarket, the spot where she and Cándido had agreed to meet. At first she is nervous, but soon she realizes that he must have gotten work, a notion which gives her great joy (although not the greatest joy - she needed a real house or apartment to feel that kind of happiness). Nevertheless, this meant that the two of them could start saving for an apartment soon, provided that they continued to get regular work. The more she waits, the more restless and nervous she gets, until finally she decides to go ahead and get some food from the supermarket. She eats some sardines with bread, and by the time that she has finished the tin, Cándido still has not returned. She finally heads back to the camp site, eager to hide herself in the bushes on the side of the road. Once she does, she finally feels safe again. As she heads down the ravine, she ruefully thinks of Tepoztlán and how she would never be hungry there, although she realizes that she would have had nothing more than food, not even a husband, and that one needs to suffer in order to make it in the United States. Suddenly, in the shadows of the rock, América runs into José Navidad and his friend. Knowing the danger she is in, she immediately turns and runs back up towards the road, and although she is fast and in good shape from hiking up to the road so often, she is not fast enough. Navidad, after taking the time to unwrap another piece of gum, proceeds to rape her, taunting her by telling her to call for her husband.
In this section of the book, Cándido and Delaney cross paths once again, this time in the parking lot of the supermarket. The two are there for very different reasons - Delaney is just making a quick trip to get some more noodles, while Cándido is searching for his wife, having no money to get food. Additionally, the run-in Cándido has with the large, angry white man affects them in very different ways. Cándido is simply embarrassed about his appearance and his inability to speak English. He is used to such treatment, and as a result, he barely focuses on the anger and hatred that the white man shows him. Delaney, on the other hand, is shocked, mainly at the sight of Cándido's familiar, battered face, and he is angry as well, believing that Cándido is hassling people. What is interesting about Delaney's response to the altercation, however, is that he has just spent the entire supermarket trip calling Jack Jardine racist and espousing his liberal values. Despite all of this talk, the moment he sees Cándido in the parking lot, he assumes that the Mexican is harassing people and does nothing to help the man out. Nevertheless, the sight of Cándido's injuries does inspire guilt in him, so much so that he is unable to focus on his work the next day. That is when the readers begin to see the disruption of Delaney's regimented routine.
Jordan was in the car during the altercation in the supermarket parking lot, able to hear and to see everything that went on. However, he does not - he is too wrapped up in his video games. This is consistently what Jordan's character will be like throughout the novel: so obsessed with his video games and computer games that he is oblivious to his surroundings. It is another commentary on the youth of America, a generation that revolves around technology and entertainment that it fails to take notice of the suffering going on around it. Jordan was oblivious to the grief that his mother felt about the loss of her dog, and he is oblivious now the struggles of Cándido.
We see Delaney go out on a hike for the first time, and Boyle is careful to describe all of the equipment that he needs to bring with him before he sets off: top of the line hiking boots, windbreaker, snakebite kit, compass, lunch, and much more. The irony is that he is about to traverse the very same canyon in which Cándido and his wife live, the same canyon walls that they climb everyday to get to the labor exchange. They do so in only their sandals, and this makes Delaney's filled hiking backpack seem almost comical in comparison. It also makes the financial gap between the Mossbachers and the Rincóns that much more visible. However, the most significant event on Delaney's hike, aside from running into José Navidad (which will be discussed in a little bit), is the theft of his car, the same car that hit Cándido. This theft not only leaves him stranded, forcing him to walk on foot to the nearest supermarket and giving him a taste of what Cándido and América go through every day, but it also fills him with anger, and it is at this point in the story that his facade of tolerance and equality for all really begins to fade. He immediately assumes that it was a Mexican immigrant who took his car, and from this point on he will only get faster and more confident in his prejudiced accusations.
Meanwhile, América has returned for a second day to work for Jim Shirley, and this day reveals much more about both América and Shirley than before. Her perseverance to work through the pain of using such cleaning chemicals without gloves not only shows her incredible work ethic but also reveals just how intimidated and scared she is to even approach her white employer. She is even afraid to use the bathroom for fear of angering him, but when she does, the readers get a better idea of her American dream. She is enchanted with the pink-and-white bathroom, and the fact that something so small and so trivial in the view of people like Jim Shirley fills her with so much longing is just another insight into how much the Rincóns are struggling. Additionally, we see that Shirley is not even slightly apologetic about forgetting to give América gloves, and he even seems upset at her for not telling him sooner. His terrible treatment of her is sadly unsurprising. She is just a machine to him, there to do his bidding and not deserving of any concern or sympathy.
José Navidad once again encroaches on the main characters of the novel. He encounters Delaney on his hike, an unwelcome surprise that effectively ruins the entire endeavor for Delaney. To Delaney, the canyon and the hills are his sanctuary, where he goes to clear his mind and to escape the stresses of his life. To have Navidad and his friend there, encroaching on his sanctuary, is almost a violation of Delaney's privacy, and seeing these immigrants there incites his anger and puts him on the path towards embracing his inner bigot. Navidad makes a second, much more vile appearance at the end of part I, raping América as she is heading back to the campsite. The rape, which happens at a point in the story when the Rincóns are just starting to be hopeful and to start seeing the possibility of achieving their goals, is representative of evil and fear marring immigrants and their American dreams. This is a literal violation of América's privacy, one that will have long-lasting consequences on not just América but also on Cándido.
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- 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
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