The Tortilla Curtain

The Tortilla Curtain Quotes and Analysis

"For a long moment they stood there, examining each other, unwitting perpetrator and unwitting victim, and then the man let the useless bag drop from his fingers with a tinkle of broken glass"

The Tortilla Curtain, 8

This quote describes Delaney and Cándido eyeing each other after the accident. Delaney has just hit Cándido with his car, and, upon exiting the car, he and the Mexican contemplate each other face to face. This is the first of several times that the two will cross paths, and this quote marks the beginning of an important journey that the two will undertake, a journey that is parallel and yet completely different in the two cases. By the end of the novel, when the two men meet face to face once more, the novel will have gone in a full circle, and Delaney and Cándido will have gained invaluable insight about themselves and their values.

"I told you - he was Mexican."

The Tortilla Curtain, 15

Delaney says this to Kyra when he calls her to tell her that he hit a man with his car. This is still in the very first chapter of the novel, when Delaney is still confident in his democratic values, and yet this quote shows a clear prejudice against Mexicans such as Cándido. It is an early insight into Delaney's character, showing that he does not fully believe the ideals of equality which he claims to subscribe to. The man he hit with his car was Mexican - thus, there was no need to worry about being sued, and thus, no need to be concerned with trying to find the man and to get him medical treatment, despite the fact that he is clearly seriously wounded. Twenty dollars made the problem go away - there is nothing more to worry about.

"He flung open the door and shot through the courtyard, head down, rounding the corner of the house just in time to see a dun-colored blur scaling the six-foot chain-link fence with a tense white form clamped in its jaws. His brain decoded the image: a coyote had somehow managed to get into the enclosure and seize one of the dogs, and there it was, wild nature, up and over the fence as if this were some sort of circus act."

The Tortilla Curtain, 37

This quote describes Delaney running out of the door and after a coyote who had one of the Mossbachers' precious family dog, Sacheverell, in its jaws. However, it can also be read to desscribe the situation with Mexican immigrants. Like the coyotes, with whom they are associated throughout he novel, these immigrants jump over, crawl under, and generally evade the fences and other obstacles at the Mexico-U.S. border. They sneak in to make money and to find food for their families, and, as many angry American citizens see it, steal the resources of law-abiding Americans. Like this coyote, the immigrants vault over the fence, take what is not rightfully theirs, and then vault right back over.

"It was a private community, comprising a golf course, ten tennis courts, a community center and some two hundred and fifty homes, each set on one-point-five acres and strictly conforming to the covenants, conditions and restrictions set forth in the 1973 articles of incorporation."

The Tortilla Curtain, 30

This quote describes Arroyo Blanco and is the prime example of the ordered, regimented white lifestyle that Boyle portrays throughout the novel. Like Delaney's scheduled daily routine, Arroyo Blanco is a highly regulated community that favors order and control above all else. Unlike the unpredictable, animal-filled living conditions of the Rincóns, this community follows all laws to ensure safety, provides maintained exercise and socialization regions, and a rationed amount of land to each homeowner. It is worlds away from anything Cándido and América, and indeed most Mexicans, have experienced.

"I am waiting for something, I don't know what, but if I can filter out the glowing evidence of our omnipresent civilization...And then i hear it, a high tennuous glissade of sound that I might almost have mistaken for a siren if I didn't know better, and I realize that this is what I've been waiting for all along: the coyote chorus."

The Tortilla Curtain, 78-9

This passage comes from the first of the two "Pilgrim at Topanga Creek" articles that are included in the novel. This particular column had discussed one of Delaney's hikes and his feelings and marvelings concerning the natural world that he encounters in the canyon. He had been describing a feeling of anticipation which he could not explain until hearing the song of the coyote, the animal associated with the Mexican immigrants. Delaney's attitude towards these coyotes reflects the conflicting fear and fascination that white Americans have with such wild, uncontrollable forces. Delaney fears the coyotes, having experienced their cunning first-hand, but at the same time it is the coyote's song that finally puts him at ease with the night.

"'The ones coming in through the Tortilla Curtain down there, those are the ones that are killing us. They're peasants, my friend. No education, no resources, no skills - all they've got to offer is a strong back, and the irony is we need fewer and fewer strong backs every day because we've got robotics and computers and farm machinery that can do the labor of a hundred men at a fraction of the cost.'"

The Tortilla Curtain, 101

Jack Jardine says this to Delaney in the supermarket, where they have run into each other and are discussing the building of the gate at the entrance of Arroyo Blanco. Delaney has just accused him of being racist for implying that the crime in the area was due to the poorly regulated Mexico-U.S. border. Jardine is retorting that he is not racist, just aware of how things are today. The quote includes the book's title, and it actually encompasses the majority of what Boyle portrays as the white middle-class frame of thought regarding Mexican immigrants: encroaching, dirty peasants who provide more danger than they do resources.

"In times of extremity, his father said, when you're lost or hungry or in danger, ponte pared, make like a wall. That is, you present a solid unbreachable surface, you show nothing, neither fear not despair, and you protect the inner fortress of yourself from all comers."

The Tortilla Curtain, 168

This is the advice that Cándido's father gave him, something to keep in mind when confronting difficult situations. Cándido has clearly followed this advice for his entire life, hardening himself to the world so that he can focus on bowing his head and working hard. However, the phrasing of this advice is what is particularly interesting. The idea of a wall is a major theme throughout the novel, and here we see that it has affected Cándido's entire life profoundly. He has taught himself to figuratively build a wall between himself and the rest of the world, and that is how he has managed to push through all of the misfortune that he has suffered.

"We cannot eradicate the coyote, nor can we fence him out, not even with eight feet of chain link, as this sad but wiser pilgrim can attest. Respect him as the wild predator he is, keep your children and pets inside, leave no food source, however, negligible, where he can access it...The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry, and unstoppable."

The Tortilla Curtain, 214-5

This is an excerpt from the second of the two "Pilgrim at Topanga Creek" columns featured in the novel, and once again, coyotes play a large role. This column was written by Delaney after the Mossbachers' second dog, Osbert, was taken by a coyote, and he is intending to use the article as a means of warning people against feeding and encouraging the coyotes' proximity to civilization. However, the writing reflects the strong feelings Delaney has towards this creatures and, in turn, to the Mexican immigrants. The fear and fascination readers saw in the first column has increased incredibly, and now they can feel that Delaney sees the creatures as an inevitable, unavoidable force, a plague that threatens Americans' possessions and privacy, everything that they hold dear. The powerful emotions portrayed in this column make it seem to his readers that he is condoning population control, a reading which shocks Delaney, who had simply intended it as a bringing to light of the issue. He did not expect it to come across as much more than that.

"Delaney looked round at his neighbors, their faces drained and white, fists clenched, ready to go anywhere, do anything, seething with it, spoiling for it, a mob. They were out here in the night, outside the walls, forced out of their shells, and there was nothing to restrain them."

The Tortilla Curtain, 289

This quote comes immediately after Delaney has attacked the handcuffed José Navidad, arrested under suspicion of starting the fire. His furious, uncontrolled actions and unexplainable anger towards the Mexicans has incited a full-on riot, with the evacuated residents of Arroyo Blanco ready to attack anything and anyone. The idea of the wall has once again arisen, but this time the white people have been forced outside of their walls, outside of their comfort zones, and the result is frightening. They have abandoned their ordered ways, Delaney even abandoning his self-inflicted rules and indulging in alcohol, and have become more like the uninhibited immigrants that they loathed and feared so much.

"She didn't answer, and he felt the cold seep into his veins, a coldness and a weariness like nothing he'd ever known. The dark water was all around him, water as far as he could see, and he wondered if he would ever get warm again. He was beyond cursing, beyond grieving, numbed right through to the core of him. All that, yes. But when he saw the white face surge up out of the black swirl of the current and the white hand grasping at the tiles, he reached down and took hold of it."

The Tortilla Curtain, 355

This is the final passage in the novel, right after Cándido asked América where Socorro was. As he realizes that she is gone, that he has lost his progeny, his child, he experiences a grief like he has never felt before. And it can be argued that it was this man, Delaney, who took it all away from him, for this chain of misfortune all began when he hit him with his car. The story has come full circle, and, like in the beginning of the novel, Cándido is left with nothing, his family torn apart. And yet, when he sees the flailing white hand of Delaney, struggling to get through the torrent that both Cándido and América survived, he does not hesitate to help him, the man who had caused him so much pain. The novel ends with an incredible act of kindness, and yet the reader is left to wonder whether or not this is enough.