The Tortilla Curtain

The Coyote Symbol in "Tortilla Curtain" College

A "coyote" is someone who profits from sneaking immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border. It's also an animal stereotyped as a scavenging coward. In The Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle draws frequent parallels between coyotes prowling the edges of civilization and Mexicans scavenging food and work on the fringes of an upscale white neighborhood. Boyle also uses Delaney Mossbacher's attitude toward the coyotes to both parallel and foreshadow his waning sympathy for illegal immigrants. Finally, he uses coyote attacks as a metaphor for white insecurity.

Although coyotes are mentioned several times in the opening chapters, it's not until Chapter Three that their metaphorical role emerges. In this chapter, a coyote climbs Delaney's fence to steal one of the family's terriers. The dramatic scene, with the "dun" (brown) coyote holding a "tense white form" clenched in its teeth, metaphorically illustrates white fear of the Mexican immigrants. At this point, Delaney is still a staunch liberal humanist and animal lover. He feels that coyotes are entitled to be there and that human intrusion and "treating them as amenities" is what causes problems. In the column he writes before the...

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