The Tortilla Curtain

The Tortilla Curtain Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 4-6


Chapter four begins with Cándido and América in the shed, the former fretting helplessly while his wife cradles the cat as she goes through labor. Cándido by now has recognized the house on the other side of the wall as the Mossbacher's house, where he worked on the fence with Al Lopez's crew. What scares him is that the house and those beside it are completely deserted, meaning that they families have been evacuated and that authorities believe that the neighborhood, the area where he and his wife are hiding, is in danger of being consumed by the flames. He knows he cannot do anything now but sit with his wife and simply prays that this will not be the case. Suddenly, América cries out sharply and tells Cándido that she needs to relieve herself. As he goes to help her up, he sees the head of his child and holds her down, telling her to push, that she is almost there. The baby is delivered successfully and both Cándido and América are overjoyed. Cándido cuts the cord and cleans the baby, believing that he now has a son to whom he vows to give everything. However, he soon discovers that the child is a girl. As he wraps his head around the fact that he is a father, the father of a daughter, América tells him that she will name the child Socorro, which means "help" in Spanish.

The whole night, Cándido stays awake on top of the roof, ready to wake his sleeping wife and child should the fire get dangerously close. Luckily, it does not, and by the next morning he has figured out what to do about shelter, for they could not stay in the aluminum shed for long. Letting América and Socorro sleep, he jumps the wall into the backyard of one of the Mossbacher's neighbors. He does not loot the house, swearing that he would never do that, but he painfully suspends his morals and steals a hammer and nails, several sacks of fruit, and a ten-gallon bucket of dog food. It takes him many trips to transport these and several wooden pallets he found by the shed up to a new spot that he found, a ledge high enough to spot anyone approaching and shrouded in dense shrubbery to conceal him and his family. He uses the tools and the pallets to build a temporary home, and after finishing it (except for the roof), he wakes up América and tells her that she needs to move. She does not want to, saying only that she wants to go home, that he had promised her a better life, and this breaks Cándido's heart. Nevertheless, he manages to move his wife and child, who is very well-behaved throughout the whole ordeal, up to their now hideout. He then returns to the wall and scales the wall once more, knowing he is out of time. This time he steals two dog dishes to use for cooking and a green plastic sheet from the greenhouse to use for a roof. He is nearly caught when the owners return home, but he manages to throw the loot over the wall and escapes into the Mossbachers' back yard. There, he uses the ladder that Kyra bought Delaney to get back over the wall. After several more trips, he finishes the hideout and falls into a weary sleep, with dreams filled with red-haired gabachos chasing him. When he wakes up, he wonders how he is going to get meat and proper food for his wife when he is too scared to show his face in the supermarket and when all of their money is still in the burned canyon. Just then, Dame Edith walks into the makeshift hut, and Cándido decides to take advantage of this sudden source of meat.

At the beginning of chapter five, Kyra is driving up the scorched road to the Da Ros house to see what was left of her beloved property. She finds the gate completely destroyed, and she drives in to find the house completely gone, save for two chimneys. Although she tells herself that it was not her house, she is devastated that all of that beauty and the unique grandeur of the house has now been destroyed. She has no doubt that it was Mexicans who did this, José Navidad and his friend, who had been released by the police due to lack of evidence. As she walks away, filled with rage, she calls the office to tell them the news and snaps at the perky secretary who answers.

Delaney and Jordan come back home from dropping off Kit at the airport, and Delaney is surprised to see Kyra's car in the driveway. He finds her with the same look on her face that she had at the restaurant where the dog was locked in the car, and she tells him about the Da Ros place. Delaney, unsure how to comfort her, continues to listen as she expresses her anger at the release of the two Mexicans. Like Kyra, Delaney too was outraged at this, to a point that it almost scared him. He was still ashamed of how he had acted the night of the fire, and he was worried about what this anger would cause him to say or do. He suggests that the two of them take a walk before dinner and try to find Dame Edith, who had been missing for three days at this point. While they walk, taking in the fresh air and noticing the plants beginning to grow from the ashes, they run into none other than Jack Jardine, who asks them to get in his car so he can show them something.

As they drive to Jack's destination, Delaney and Kyra inquire about Dominick Flood's whereabouts. The more questions they ask, the more uncomfortable Jack becomes, saying several times that he is no longer Flood's attorney but confirming that Flood had fled the country. Kyra makes it clear that she finds Flood's trickery of her mother inexcusable, and Jack makes it very clear that she can in no way be charged as an accessory to his crime. Luckily for Jack, they arrive at his destination before the conversation can go any farther. He has stopped in front of Arroyo Blanco's entrance gates, where Kyra and Delaney are shocked to see more graffiti, a large Z and an S with a line through it. Jack compares it to the writing on Mayan temples and asks if that is similar to what Kyra found on the Da Ros house. Though she says it is not, she does point out that it looks like graffiti found all over the city. The whole affair leaves a bitter taste in Delaney's mouth.

Having spent many hours staking out various locations in search of elusive animals, Delaney decides to use his extraordinary patience to try to catch the vandals, despite Kyra's hesitations. He sets up two trip-wire cameras and spends the nights watching and waiting by the newly repainted wall. By this point, his morning routine is completely obsolete and his hikes are no longer a priority, for he feels he must find this unnatural presence that is encroaching on his natural world. However, he is still ashamed of the way his anger made him act, he vows that he will not confront the culprit himself, only turn him in to the police. So he sits night after night, even in the rain, waiting for the guilty party but only seeing his neighbor's cars driving in and out to movies and liquor stores. The one night that he takes off to spend with Kyra is the night that something finally trips the wire on one of the cameras. He develops the film in the Cherrystones' dark room, only to find, much to his surprise, the face of Cándido on the film.

Chapter six goes back to the lives of Cándido and his family. After waiting three days, Cándido went back into the canyon, only to find their savings obliterated by the fire. In his misery, Cándido contemplates running away, thinking that his family will be better off without him. He hates himself for ruining the lives of his wife and daughter, for forcing them to live like animals, eating cat meat (which he told América was rabbit meat, saying that the cat had gone back to its family). After half an hour of wallowing in his despair, he goes to the Chinese market where nobody will recognize him and buys food for América, which he prepares on the grill, the only thing remaining from their camp site in the canyon. América demands that he use the money to buy her and Socorro a ticket back to Tepoztlán so that she can raise her child in a civilized world, not like animals. She does not believe that the money is gone until he shows her the remains.

América contemplates her child and her life, proud of the beautiful baby she has created but despairing at the fact that she could not show her to her family. She loves Cándido and is grateful to him for saving her life and Socorro's life, but she is convinced that he is cursed, for nothing he did turned out well. Señor Wilis's car never came back, and she was growing more and more worried. When she tells Cándido that they must register Socorro's birth with a priest, he suggests that they go to Canoga Park once again, if she is strong enough, to find a priest to register with and to baptize her. América says over and over again how much she hates the United States, even though she can sense that, if she could only find it, she and her child could have peace. She despairs that she cannot make the pilgrimage to Chalma to ask the Virgin Mary to bless Socorro with a long and happy life. All she wants to do is to go back to Mexico, even if she must walk there and starve to death along the way. She thinks all of this as she stares into Socorro's eyes, which don't seem to focus on her, instead staring off into space.

Cándido was desperate for money by now determined to earn for his family to prevent América from going back to Mexico, where her father would most likely marry Socorro off to someone he owed money to. However, nobody was standing outside of the post office anymore, and when he tried to, the man behind the counter sent him away. To make matters worse, América was saying that Socorro needed a doctor and that they needed a way to pay for it. Cándido began to feel a little bit better when he saw the canyon where they had lived before flooded due to the constant rain - maybe God was looking out for him after all. He went back to the post office with a smile on his face, asking everyone if they needed work done and getting ignored over and over again. He grew more and more desperate with each rejection, and he was soon kicked out once again by the same man, even after explaining that he needed to feed his wife and child. He was kicked out from in front of the Chinese store as well and finally resorted to standing on the side of the road, not caring anymore if he attracted the attention of immigration officials. Suddenly, a car swerved into the shoulder ahead of him, and out stepped Delaney, yelling at him to stay where he is.


This section of the books sees the birth of Socorro, the child that Cándido always wanted, even if she is a girl and not the son that he had wished for. The birth is another high point for the Rincóns, after the extreme low that the fire presented. Even better is that they received help from the white Americans of Arroyo Blanco, although the latter do not realize that right away. América gives birth in a shed used by the landscaper, and the Mossbachers' cat helps to take her mind off of the pain of labor, and, with these resources available, América gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. Upon seeing her, Cándido feels despair that he cannot provide for her, but he also feels a twinge of hope - the thing that he has been striving for for half of his life is finally his. However, this, too, will not turn out as he planned, simply following the pattern that his life has followed.

In order to keep his family alive to continue fighting, Cándido must compromise his values and must steal from the residents of Arroyo Blanco. This action has two effects. First of all, it shows that the building of the wall was actually quite useless, just as the heightening of the Mossbachers' chain link fence was useless against the coyotes. He is able to vault right over the concrete structure and uses the residents' own property to vault right back. Like Navidad did the night before by spitting in Delaney's face, Cándido has breached the wall between Mexicans and white Americans with relative ease. The second effect that Cándido's theft has is that it reveals how strongly he holds to his morals. It would be very easy for him not to feel at all guilty about stealing from these people who already have so much - however, he just feels terrible, and he must convince himself that he is borrowing these items in order to bring himself to carry out the act. It is heartbreaking to see this man who is already suffering so much now have to struggle internally.

Another striking image in this section is the destruction of the Da Ros place. While Kyra's Arroyo Blanco home remained intact, her most prized property, the home that represented her dream, was not. The fire, illuminating once again, completely destroyed Kyra's American dream, highlighting its impossibility and completely extinguishing it. Upon the sight of the destroyed home and the demolished possessions within it, Kyra does not blame her bad luck as the Rincóns would. Instead, she blames it on the Mexicans, specifically José Navidad and his partner, and has no problem abandoning her democratic values to curse all illegal immigrants in her mind. Nevermind the fact that there is no proof that any Mexicans did this - she is simply angry that her American dream was taken away, just as her two dogs were snatched away from under her nose, and she is convinced that it is all the Mexicans' fault.

Some time after the fire, Arroyo Blanco becomes the third victim of vandalization, and this time, Delaney is determined to find the culprit. Like Kyra, he is completely convinced that the Mexicans are at fault for the fire, and he wants nothing more than to prove that he is right. To do so, he completely disrupts his daily routine just to stakeout the wall that was vandalized. He has completely abandoned his liberal values at this point, although he is still clinging to them by the very last thread and telling himself that he just wants justice. Furthermore, still ashamed about inciting the riot during the fire, he tells himself that all he wants is photographic evidence of the culprit, whoever that may be, to turn into the police. That does not explain why Cándido's face, the face of his Mexican, keeps running through his head, and it certainly does not explain his future actions.

Meanwhile, Cándido's situation is getting more and more desperate. Gone with his savings and with the fire is Señor Wilis, whom he does not see again for the rest of the novel. With both his savior and the labor exchange gone, as well as one more mouth to feed, Cándido does not know what else to do. He must endure América's constant pleas to go back to Mexico. His wife has finally realized that, through no fault of his own, Cándido's life is cursed. In the aftermath of the fire, América and Cándido have realized that the latter is simply not meant for success. Desperate to prove this wrong and to keep his family in America, the place where they can achieve their dreams, Cándido's attempts to get work become more and more dangerous, leading to his next face-to-face encounter with Delaney.