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The Tortilla Curtain Summary and Analysis

by T.C. Boyle

Part II, Chapters 1-3

Summary

Part II opens with Delaney at the dealership with Kenny Grissom, the salesman who sold him the car which had been stolen. He is listening to Kenny's assurances that cars are stolen and the time and his stories about contractors whose job it is to peruse the cities looking for quality cars to steal. Meanwhile, Delaney is feeling violated, upset that not only is he forced to shell out much more money to replace the car but also at the fact that everybody seemed to just be taking the news in stride. The police showed little interest in the case, and Jack Jardine simply used this as another way to point out the problems with having illegal immigrants in California. Kenny regales Delaney with a few more stories of Mexicans and other immigrants stealing cars and other white customers simply totaling cars just driving out of the parking lot, and finally Delaney is sitting in his new car, getting used to it and hating the little things that made it different from his old one.

Delaney leaves the dealership to meet Kyra for a lunch date, nervously handing his brand new car to the eighteen or nineteen year old Latino valet and feeling a stab of racist sentiment against him. Inside, Kyra is busy working and has already ordered for them - she has to hurry through lunch to close on one of her properties and then to check in on the fence company, who will raise the fence around their house by two feet in an effort to keep out the coyotes. She hurries Delaney through lunch and plans to take a quick look at the new car before heading to work. However, as the Mexican valet is going to get the car, Kyra notices an Afghan barking inside one of the cars, a green jeep with the window barely cracked open, a danger to the dog's health in the summer heat. Outraged, Kyra tries to open the door of the jeep but finds it locked, and the stunned valet does not understand her angry inquiries as to who owns that car. As she confronts the entire restaurant, Delaney admires her in her determined quest, appreciating and loving this simple battle between right and wrong. When they walk out of the restaurant, they find that the green jeep has been claimed by four loud men. Kyra immediately challenges the driver, who rudely tells her to "fuck off," saying the same to Delaney when he steps in, the man referring to Delaney as "Jack." Kyra decries the nastiness that has become a consequence of "urban life" before running off to her meeting. Delaney, meanwhile, is once again in a rage and decides to go for another hike to calm himself down. However, he is worried for his car, sitting vulnerable on the side of the road once again, and turns back. But instead of getting in the car and driving away, he conceals himself in the bushes next to the road and watches his car, waiting for and almost daring someone to try and steal this brand new car.

Kyra, meanwhile, forgets about the incident with the green jeep soon after jumping into her car and listening to her relaxation tape. She heads to the office and then back past the restaurant to a full-service gas station which she likes to use. As she pulls out of the gas station, she drives east on Ventura Boulevard, keeping an eye out for business closings and other details relevant to her job. It is then that she notices the horde of Mexicans in front of a 7-Eleven. Disturbed because such things could bring down the areas property value, she goes into the store to gauge whether this is a common occurrence and finds out that it is. Even more disturbing is the block of apartments just behind the store, inhabited by seedy looking men who glare at her from their doors. She decides to show Mike Bender the situation in the morning to try and get him to pull some strings to get the area cleared. She then drives away, ignoring the please of a young Latino man looking for work.

After closing with her pleased clients, Kyra heads to her house to check on the progress of the fence. Al Lopez is the man in charge of the building, a man Kyra trusts and with whom she has worked before. She had insisted on a whole new fence, sturdy and not tacky. Lopez convinces her to snake-proof her fence for another $210, and he calls out to one of the workers to get the additional materials. This worker turns out to be none other than Cándido, and Kyra, noticing his limp and his other injuries, realizes that this must be the man that Delaney hit with his car. As she watches him work, whistling despite his obvious struggles, she feels a powerful sadness and emptiness. She shakes it off and moves on, showing another property and then beginning her nightly ritual of closing down her five properties. Today, however, she finds a shiny new shopping cart lying on its side just inside the gate of the Da Roses' property. Puzzled, she pulls it outside of the gate and makes a note to tell the store to pick it up. She then continues up to the house and performs her inspection, finding nothing out of order. However, she decides to look around the property some more to make sure that nobody was camping out there. As she traces the perimeter, she runs into José Navidad and his Indian friend, who are coming out of the bushes at the base of the lawn. Kyra yells at the two to leave, but when she looks Navidad in the eyes, she realizes that he is dangerous and that she needs to be careful. She lies and tells them that she owns the house and that her husband and brother are in the kitchen making dinner, and Navidad responds that he and his friend were just hiking. He and his friend turn to leave, Navidad stopping short to wish Kyra and her falsified husband and brother a good day.

Chapter two opens with Cándido recounting his luck at getting the construction job with Al Lopez at five dollars an hour. As he works, he remembers the trip that led to his arrival in Topanga canyon for the first time. He had been working in Idaho, tending potato crops, and was getting ready to head back home at the end of the season when four of his friends convinced him to go to LA and to earn more money instead by gardening. Cándido agreed, pooling his money with theirs to buy a truck to drive down. However, none of them knew how to drive in the snowy weather, and, when the group was in Oregon, the car broke down and the police approached them. Three of the men, including Cándido, got away, but one of them was caught and deported back to Mexico, where he was stripped of all of his possessions. Cándido found himself abandoned in the freezing weather with only his father's advice to guide him: "when you're lost or hungry or in danger, ponte pared, make like a wall." He stumbled upon the farm of a burly farmer and his family, who were kind enough to take him in, feed him, and direct him to the train station. After expressing his great gratitude, Cándido took the train to LA, found Canoga Park, the area where most Mexicans lived, and found the cousin of his previous companion who had been deported. He began gardening and lived in an apartment in Shoup, the area by the 7-Eleven that Kyra had passed, but as things were looking up, someone tipped of Immigration and a search was made through Cándido's community. He ran away, followed by two young boys and several immigration officers. He darted across eight lanes of freeway and managed to escape, but the two boys were not so lucky. Cándido, horrified by this turn of events, wandered until he came to Topanga creek, where he and América now lived. It soothed him, and the canyon's healing power was what drew him back when he returned with his young wife.

Cándido finally arrives back at the camp and finds his young wife naked and repairing her sole, shredded dress. The sight makes him feel so guilty for making her live in this manner, and he resolves to surprise her with more food and new clothes. However, he realizes something is wrong when he touches her shoulder and she jerks away and when she looked at him with listless eyes. She tells him that the man in the backwards cap and his friend stole her money but, when Cándido asks if they raped her, she denies it, trying to spare him the unnecessary pain. Nevertheless, he forbids her to go to the labor exchange any longer, and she is forced to spend day after monotonous day at the camp. She is growing more and more pregnant everyday and longs to be able to talk to her mother and her sisters about her symptoms. She feels a burning sensation when she urinates, and she is not sure whether that is normal or whether it had to do with the rape. The sensation soon goes away, however, and she slowly begins to mentally heal. One day, she comes face to face with a coyote and begins to hallucinate, seeing herself in the coyote and in its life, connecting with it until she suddenly realizes that the animal is gone. Cándido, meanwhile, has lost his job with Lopez, whose formerly injured regular employee, who happened to be legal, had returned to work. Cándido drinks himself into oblivion, and, while watching América try on her new maternity clothes, accuses her of lying to him about the rape and calls her a whore. Angry, América tells him to go to hell, and he watches her, full of guilt at the life he has forced her to lead and at the fact that he will take his anger and frustration out on her by hitting her. He wants to die, but sadly admits that dead men cannot provide.

Chapter three returns to the Mossbachers, with Delaney grilling another healthy dinner and watching a rare bird, a California gnatcatcher, hop on the new fence and Kyra relaxing by the pool after her daily jog and swim. As Kyra gets up to help him prepare dinner, she tells him that she cleaned up the street corner by Shoup, having shown Mike Bender the problem and inspired him to use his connections to get the gang of Mexicans out of the area. Delaney is clearly troubled by this, and, seeing his discomfort, Kyra offhandedly claims that she is not proud of it but that something had to be done to prevent such immigrants from overwhelming the school, education, prison, and other public systems. She quickly switches gears to talk about the engagement of one of her coworkers but leaves Delaney recalling a previous evening with Jack Jardine and his acquaintances.

Jack Jardine had invited Delaney to the home of one of his friends who also lived in Arroyo Blanco, a man by the name of Dominick Flood. Delaney immediately notices the house arrest ankle bracelet the host is wearing and realizes that Dominick, known by his friends as Dom, was a convict. Jardine later reveals that Dom got involved in some poor investments and as a result is on a three year house arrest, a thought which horrifies Delaney, being a naturalist. Also present are Jack Cherrystone and Jim Shirley. Talk turns to the gate, which Delaney still dislikes. Jim Shirley, whom Delaney dislikes and describes as paranoiac and the source of terrifying stories of crime, talks about the robberies that have been occurring at houses being put on the market, and Jardine brings up Sunny DiMandia, another Arroyo Blanco resident who fell victim to the first of the neighborhood's violent crimes. Delaney is shocked to discover that they are telling him all of this because they want to build a wall around the entirety of Arroyo Blanco, an idea which he vehemently opposes. After Shirley fills in the gruesome details of Sunny's ordeal, the conversation turns to the coyotes that the men can hear howling outside and then to the labor exchange. Dom reveals that he has taken measures to end the exchange due to people's discomfort with it.

Delaney is thinking about this as he helps Kyra with dinner, wondering what will happen to all of the Mexican immigrants who depended on that labor exchange to survive. He compares it to migratory animal species' reactions to being displaced by another, usually involving violence until one group had destroyed the other. He quickly shifts his focus and asks if Kyra and Jordan want to see a movie. While Kyra is explaining that she has to work and Jordan is whining that he wants to see one, Delaney sees shock and fear on Kyra's face and spins around to find the coyote back in their yard, this time after Osbert. To the family's horror, the coyote grabs the poor dog and scales the fence like a ladder, escaping so fast that nothing Delaney does can save the little dog's life.

Analysis

The Mossbachers' love of nature arises once more in the scene at the Indian restaurant, where Kyra gets up in arms over the locking of a dog in a searing hot car. Her anger causes her to confront four adult men without any fear for her safety, and Delaney finds her extremely attractive in her anger. This whole episode goes back to the white American fascination with the untamed, the forces that exist outside of the regimented world that they know so well. Kyra displays her love of animals, creatures that don't live on a schedule or under the constraints of society, and Delaney admires her for it. However, this is contrasted with Kyra's next action: clearing out the corner of Shoup, where Mexican immigrants stand and try to get work. The first thing Kyra thinks of when she spots the group is the property value of the area. With all of these Mexicans milling around, the property value will certainly go down, and Kyra cannot have that. She will not stand for anything that interferes with her work, and as a result, she brings it to the attention of her boss and, in her words, "cleans up Shoup." While she is quick to defend the dog in the car, she is actually instigates the removal and persecution of the Mexican immigrants. It is just another way of showing the truth of the Mossbachers' supposedly liberal values, for while Kyra claims to treat all people equally, her actions against the crowd of people on the corner of the road prove otherwise.

It is Kyra's turn to have a run in with José Navidad, whom she runs into on the Da Ros property. Before seeing him, however, she finds a new shopping cart, an item generally associated with homeless people and a foreshadowing of what is about to come. She calls out to them threateningly when she first sees Navidad and his friend, but she soon senses the evil and the danger that she is in. The reason that Kyra is so affected by this encounter is because Navidad has invaded her sanctuary and marred something that is very important to her. The Da Ros property represents Kyra's American dream, a life of excess and luxury that is walled in, protected from the dangers and immigrants in the crowded city below. Finding Navidad there ruins this dream of hers, for it proves that the property is not the impenetrable fortress that it is in her dreams. Just as Navidad infringed upon the sanctuaries and privacies of Cándido, Delaney, and América, he has made a deep impact on Kyra, one that will not be forgotten soon.

The sections that describe Cándido's past and the path that brought him to Topanga Canyon tell the readers a lot about Cándido's character, as well as why he sees his life as cursed. There were a couple of times when he came close to succeeding and fulfilling his American dream - each time, however, something happened to bring his success crashing down around him. However, what is emphasized in his recollection of these events is not the lost money, but the lost lives and Cándido's regrets at his part in them. He feels sorrow over the deaths of the two boys who died while trying to follow him across a highway while evading La Migra, a sorrow that drowns the relief he should feel for getting away. The stories of his past show Cándido's buckle-down-and-work attitude, and the advice from his father about "making like a wall" during times of hardship reincorporates the wall theme of the novel and explains his incredible work ethic. However, the stories may also be foreshadowing. Cándido once again has two lives, his wife and his unborn child, following him in hopes of living the American dream, and it may simply turn out to be a repetition of history.

Readers are also introduced to the fascinating character of Dominick Flood, who, while being an enormously wealthy white businessman, is also a convict who is under house arrest serving a three year sentence. This contradiction makes him one of the most mysterious, intriguing characters of the novel, for while he subscribes to the typical white, regimented lifestyle, he clearly has an element of wildness that his neighbors only expect from immigrants and nature. Indeed, despite being on house arrest, Flood shows a clear interest in nature, being familiar with the magazine in which Delaney's column is printed as well as several other nature magazines. He is clearly a good host and knows how to please his white neighbors, but, as readers will see soon, Flood shares more in common with Mexican immigrants than one may suspect.

The figure of the coyote also makes two more appearances in this section of the book. The first appearance is in the canyon, where América is sitting waiting for Cándido to return from work. As she is lying on her back, despairing in her boredom, she comes face to face with a female coyote. In the moment that she locks eyes with the animal, the coyote's symbolic nature of the Mexican immigrant becomes much more clear. América literally finds herself as a part of the coyote, looking out of its eyes. She has a child to take care of, just like the coyote, and the two share the white American population as an enemy. América feels so at ease with the animal, not displaying any fear at all, simply connecting with the animal on another level. The second appearance of the coyote is much more menacing and results in the death of the Mossbachers' second dog, Osbert. To get to the pet, the coyote literally climbs the enhanced, 8-foot tall chain link fence that the Mossbachers built after the last coyote incident. Thus, the walls of the Mossbacher residence are once again breached and their property is stolen right out from under their noses, drawing comparisons to the way in which Mexican immigrants overcome the obstacles at the Mexico-U.S. border.

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