Tangerine Themes

Class Division

One of the major themes in Tangerine comes from the tension between the two communities—that of Tangerine and that of Lake Windsor. While Tangerine is a poor community of field workers, Lake Windsor is upper middle class. The people of Lake Windsor often discriminate against the people of Tangerine; in response to this, the people of Tangerine are defensive against the Lake Windsor community. One difference between the two communities is their economic status; while this may seem superficial and unimportant, it has the effect of causing a violent rift between the different groups. This tension ultimately plays out when Erik and Arthur attack Tino and Luis; Tino and Victor then take revenge. Paul ultimately sides with the Tangerine kids in this battle. He sees Lake Windsor—and particularly Erik—as the more aggressive side.


Throughout the novel, Paul is terrified of Erik. His fear is debilitating and it means that he doesn’t know how to stand up for his friends when Erik attacks them. Overcoming fear is important to Paul’s success. Once he stands up to Erik, he becomes free of Erik’s power over him.


In a number of incidences the people of Lake Windsor reveal their prejudices against the poorer families of Tangerine. We see Erik make fun of Tino and Theresa for being field workers. The Lake Windsor Housing Association assumes that the people vandalizing their development are Tangerine kids. While football scouts come out to the Lake Windsor team, nobody goes to Tangerine team. The effects of this discrimination include a deep rift between the two communities and ultimately the violence that breaks out. As Paul bridges the divide between the communities, we come to see the problem of discrimination and how it negatively impacts people’s lives.

Deceptiveness of Appearances

Tangerine is a story about facades, appearances, and all that lies hidden beneath. Just like the lignite fires smoldering under the surface of the soil of Tangerine County, there is violence and deception under the surface of the lives of the people in the story. The Lake Windsor housing develop is a place where all the homes must conform to a certain standard. Everything is meant to look perfect. In reality, however, termites are infesting one entire street; there’s lightning repeatedly hitting one house; there are muck fires blowing repulsive smoke everywhere. Despite the façade, the truth underneath is revealing itself. The very attempt to deny the problems seems to make them worse. This is certainly true in the case of Erik. By never addressing Erik’s violence against Paul, Paul’s parents have created a monster. By acting as though Erik is a hero, they never look at what he’s actually like. Little by little, his dark side begins to reveal itself, until he ultimately ends up being complicit in the killing of Luis.

Family Values

In the novel we see different kinds of family values. In the case of the Cruz family, loyalty is vital. The young kids, Tino and Theresa, are committed to the success of the family business and totally devoted to their older brother, Luis. Luis in return looks out for his younger siblings and comes to avenge them after Erik attacks Tino.

In contrast, the Fisher family is deeply divided within itself. There’s no loyalty between Erik and Paul. Instead Paul is terrified of his older brother and Erik shows no love for Paul. Fisher family values are drastically different than Cruz family values. Mr. Fisher is exclusively concerned with is Erik’s success on the football field and totally neglects Paul. Mrs. Fisher is concerned with appearances and thus ignores the issues playing out between the rest of the members of her family.


Throughout the novel Paul can’t remember the traumatic event of his childhood: his brother blinding him with spray-paint. This repressed memory reflects other aspects of denial at work in the novel. The houses of Lake Windsor are built on torn up tangerine groves. Those torn up groves represent the torn up lives of field workers, like the Cruzes, who used to live there. In the same way that Paul’s life is traumatic buried history, the Lake Windsor is built on top of a precarious foundation.

Force of Nature

Nature plays a central role in the lives of the people Tangerine County. While many of the characters have an impact on different individuals’ lives, everyone is affected by nature. Lightning strikes; a sinkhole opens up; lignite fires burn; the freeze arrives.