The Tortilla Curtain

The Tortilla Curtain Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 1-3


Part III of the novel begins with the Mossbachers on Thanksgiving Day, preparing to go to an afternoon soiree, complete with sushi and a string quartet, hosted by Dominick Flood. Delaney, Kyra, and Kyra's mother, Kit, dress in their nicest attire and head over, leaving Jordan behind with Orbalina, the maid in charge of watching and taking care of the Thanksgiving dinner while Delaney and Kyra are out. Kit immediately latches on to Dominick and begins flirting with him, sensing his bachelorhood. However, Delaney cannot relax at the party despite his beer, for he is constantly worrying about the dinner and feeling guilt for drinking so early in the afternoon. Jack Jardine notices his discomfort and goes to talk to him. He talks to Delaney about the stir that his coyote column caused, a stir which surprised Delaney. He had meant for the article to simply bring the coyote issue to light, but many of his readers thought that he was advocating population control through traps and other extreme methods. The conversation soon drifts towards the wall of Arroyo Blanco, and it is at this point that they are joined by Kyra.

Kyra, unlike Delaney, was enjoying herself at the party, confident leaving the dinner in Orbalina's hands. She had already exercised for the day and had allowed herself to take a rare day off from work. She had been excited to meet Dominick Flood, whom Erna Jardine constantly talked about, and she was impressed by his striking presence and perfect facade. Kyra was fascinated by his friends, who were not from Arroyo Blanco, and spent much of the party talking to them about a wide variety of subjects. By the time she joined Delaney and the Jardines, she could tell her own dinner party was getting ready to break off. She forces Delaney to admit that the wall makes him feel safer, and Erna Jardine tells them of another violent crime that took place in an ungated neighborhood nearby. Just as the mood lightens and Delaney begins to relax and to enjoy himself, someone cries out that there is a fire in the canyon.

After standing in Dominick's yard and watching the flames light up the canyon, Delaney grabs Kyra and literally pries Kit off of Dominick so that the three can head home to determine their next course of action. The year before there had been another fire, but they were not evacuated. However, while watching the television, the news reports that it is headed up in their direction, and that is enough to make them decide to pack their most precious belongings in preparation to evacuate. Their Thanksgiving dinner is put on hold while they determine whether or not their house is in danger.

Chapter two goes back to just before the fire, when América was still in her state of depression. She is so angry at Cándido, blaming him for making her leave her life in Mexico and for failing to deliver on his promises. She misses her mother and her family so much that it hurts her, causing her to withdraw. She recalls the story of Señora Ordóñez, who didn't speak to her husband for twenty-two years after he sold their pig to get money to get drunk. However, after hearing a bird chirping for its mate, América begins to soften up. She will still not smile at her husband, but she knows that he loves her, and the growing bills in the jar give her hope. The turkey is enough to break her out of her dark mood entirely and to convince her to forgive him, when all of a sudden they are confronted by a wall of fire. Screaming and terrified, the two scramble up the rock wall behind them, América climbing over stones and mountains of trash thrown there by the Americans despite her pregnancy. When they get to the road, Cándido tries to get his wife to run some more, worried that they will be caught and executed for starting the fire. However, she refuses to move, and her response when her husband asks her if she wants to die is a resounding, rage-filled yes.

Cándido looks back down at the fire raging in the canyon and is astounded by his bad luck, by the fact that he, one man with a match, had caused this. However, his astonishment and his fear of getting caught by the police are soon pushed aside when América tells him that he water broke, that the baby is coming now. With no doctor or midwife available and having never delivered a baby, Cándido is desperate to find help. América tells him that she is thirsty, so he tells her to stay there as he travels out, only daring to go 200 feet away from his wife. Luckily, as he nears the end of his 200 feet, he runs into the white stucco wall that surrounds Arroyo Blanco.

Cursing his own life but fearing for the lives of his wife and unborn child, Cándido quickly follows the wall, hoping to find an opening into what he knows is a community, possibly filled with people able to help. He does not find an opening but instead runs into an aluminum tool shed, where he finds a kerosene lamp and a cup. Back outside, he finds a hose connected to the irrigation system, a perfect source of water. Cándido runs back to his wife, gives her water, and then takes her back to the shed. At this point, América is practically delirious with pain, crying out for her mother, and Cándido is useless to help. Suddenly, a pretty Siamese cat, the Mossbacher's own Dame Edith, walks into the shed, and América decides that this cat will be her saint, her midwife to help her through the birth.

At the top of Topanga Canyon, the Mossbachers have joined their neighbors in watching the flames below. They were all evacuated from their homes and had with them only what they could fit into their expensive cars. Delaney jokes that the turkey is probably ruined now, but Kyra is in no mood for it. She admonishes him for joking around, basically taking her worry out on him. Angry, he joins Jack Cherrystone, who is holding a bottle of liquor. He accepts a drink from him despite the facts that he does not tolerate alcohol well and has already had two beers that day. As soon as the bottle leaves his lips, he recognizes José Navidad and his friend trudging up towards them.

Angry, wanting to place the blame on somebody, and dropping all pretenses of fairness and equality, Delaney is sure that it is these two who caused the fire. Jack Cherrystone clearly thinks so as well, calling them the first of many racial slurs and pulling Delaney over towards the police. However, the police have already noticed the two Mexicans, and one cop, who looks Mexican himself, begins to question them in Spanish. Delaney shouts that he saw the two in the canyon and that they probably started the fire. Jack shouts out as well, demanding that they give answers, especially if arson was involved. Navidad and his friend don't seem to bothered by all of the commotion until a blond police office comes over to question them. Suddenly the two are at attention, then on the ground being handcuffed. Cherrystone's booming voice has drawn a crowd over by this time, and soon a flood of racial slurs and hateful remarks are being thrown at the two men. Navidad glares at Delaney, and when Delaney returns the look, the man spits in his face. Enraged, Delaney jumps on him and begins beating him, while the handcuffed Mexican shouts death threats at him. Jack Cherrystone pulls Delaney back, and as the two Mexicans are dragged away, Delaney takes another swig from the liquor bottle.

Eventually, the winds shift the fire away from Arroyo Blanco, and the Mossbachers and their neighbors are allowed to return home. Delaney is hungover and ashamed for having almost started a riot. He can relate to people who are faced with a throng of hating protestors, having endured that very scenario when an anti-abortion riot targeted him and his first wife as they left the clinic, not knowing the pain that had gone into Delaney's and his wife's decision. Delaney is surprised to find the house in tact, having expected the heat to warp the metal in the frame. Jordan runs off looking for Dame Edith while Kyra, after making sure their house was fine, checks on her properties. To her horror, she hears that the Da Ros house has been destroyed, although none of the news channels can confirm that. She wants to go check on it, but Delaney stops her, telling her that now is not the time, and she knows that he is right. At that moment, Kit, having struggled through the ordeal, walks in holding the house arrest ankle bracelet that was once on Dominick Flood's ankle. She had found it in her purse, and the three of them realize that Dominick used Kit and the commotion to flee the country.


The fire is a great illuminator, burning away pretenses and phoniness to reveal the truth about all of the characters. In the case of the Rincóns, it shows the sheer hopelessness of their situation, sending all of their hopes and dreams literally up in flames. Just as they were starting to feel happy and hopeful again, the fire came to take that hope away and to once again repeat history. América says that she wants to die because it has become clear that this family is not meant to succeed in the United States, and she cannot stand to suffer anymore. Meanwhile, in the case of the Mossbachers and their neighbors, it reveals the material-minded nature of their lives. When they see the fire, they do not worry about their own lives as the Rincóns must - instead, they worry about their possessions and about having enough time to fill up their expensive cars with the materials that mean the most to them. It also flushes them out of their homes and out the Arroyo Blanco wall, an action which will reveal their true characters.

While on the hill overlooking the fire, the crowd of Arroyo Blanco natives encounter José Navidad and his friend, and Delaney nearly incites a riot at the sight of their faces. He has completely forgone his liberal values, immediately assuming that these two Mexicans are at fault, and his neighbors are right behind him. More racial slurs and insults are shouted during this scene than in any other part of the book, and the racism present is so powerful that it nearly jumps off of the page. These white Americans, having been forced out of the walls that protect their regimented lifestyles, have become consumed by the wild forces that they are so consumed with, and when Navidad dares to breach the figurative wall between white people and Mexican immigrants by spitting on Delaney, the latter is quick to embrace his animal side and beat the helpless, handcuffed man. In the morning, once he is back in his white American walls and lifestyle, he will feel ashamed of his actions, mainly because of how uncontrolled he was and not really because of how he treated Navidad. However, in the heat of the moment, he regrets nothing.

An interesting factor in this whole confrontation is alcohol. Normally, while following his normal routine, Delaney limits himself to two beers at most, and we see at Dominick Flood's party that Delaney is quite uncomfortable with exceeding that limit. However, once outside of the walls, he leaves this limit behind and downs spirits offered to him by Jack Cherrystone. He is beginning to act in the manner that the white American view of immigrants as drunkards. From watching Delaney's attitude towards liquor, readers get a small insight into what the removal of a white American from the regimented, walled-in lifestyle he is used to can do.

Dominick Flood comes back into the picture as well, and this time we get almost a full insight into his character. He throws an incredibly decadent Thanksgiving party, complete with sushi and a string quartet, is just to the taste of his Arroyo Blanco neighbors. As Kyra states, he does a perfect job of keeping up his facade of white American life. However, after the illuminating fire, we see that he is much more similar in nature to Mexican immigrants. Using cunning and trickery reminiscent of that of coyotes, Dom Flood cuts off his house arrest bracelet, capitalizes on the clingy nature of Kyra's mother, and flees the country, probably to Mexico. Everyone is shocked by this, and, as we will see, nobody is more shocked than Jack Jardine, the ultimate bastion of anti-immigrant sentiment. He is shocked that he could have been friends with such a man, simply a testament to how well Flood was able to fake the necessary Arroyo Blanco attitude.