The Tortilla Curtain

The Tortilla Curtain Study Guide

The Tortilla Curtain was published by Viking Press in 1995 and went on to become T.C. Boyle's most successful novel. It delves into middle class values and their relation to the issues of illegal immigration, xenophobia, poverty, and the American dream. The novel's structure, placing the stories and events of the immigrants, Cándido and América Rincón, and the middle class citizens, Delaney Mossbacher and his family and friends, back to back, makes the realities and ironies of the two families' ways of life very apparent. There is also a strong environmental thread throughout the novel, with animals and nature playing major parts in the story.

It is no coincidence that The Tortilla Curtain was released during a time when the issue of illegal immigration was in the public limelight. The novel came out after California's vote on and rejection of Proposition 187, a bill which would restrict illegal immigrants from using certain public resources, such as health care and public education. As a result, The Tortilla Curtain was one of Boyle's most controversial novels, stirring up powerful reactions from its readers. These emotions were made even stronger by Boyle's refusal to endorse either side of the issue in the novel. In interviews, he has revealed that he goes into his novels without an opinion on the issue he is writing about, allowing the writing process to help him to work through it and to figure out his views.

The issues raised by [The Tortilla Curtain] remain a prominent feature of today's political scene. Consider the controversy engendered by Arizona's new immigration bill in the summer of 2010. The question of how best to deal with immigration is indeed a fundamental one: it cuts to the root of America's vision of itself as a nation, right down to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, from the pen of Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor./Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." A movie adaptation of the novel is scheduled for release in 2010, from producer Scott Steindorff, and it is safe to say it too may spark yet more controversy.