The Tortilla Curtain

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


At the beginning of chapter four, Cándido is hopeful once again, getting work for five days in a row. Although the work is difficult and the employer cheats him out of his wages for the fifth day, he remembers the $320 he and América have saved up in a peanut butter jar and is hopeful that, after a couple more weeks of steady work, the two of them would be able to get an apartment. However, he does not get anymore work. He returns to the campsite at one o' clock each day dejected, and his boredom with doing nothing begins to turn into rage. To prevent himself from taking his anger out on América, he keeps himself busy with projects to improve the camp site. He even makes a net with which to catch some of the little birds that flutter around, and, although he is successful, América refuses to touch them. Finally, disaster strikes yet again. One morning, Cándido makes his way to the labor exchange to find that it is no longer there - the structure had been torn down. He and other men find out from a weary, hopeless Candelario that the exchange had been shut down and that Immigration would be coming soon to check green cards.

Despairing, Cándido wanders around the parking lot of the post office several times. He internally rages at the unfairness of it all, that all of these Americans could have such nice things and could afford to leave food on their plates while the rest of the world starved. He is at a loss for ideas of what to do next, for he refuses to go back to Mexico, where the unemployment rate was so high and the system so corrupt, where he would be forced to live off of his aunt and to once more be the butt of the jokes of his hometown. And yet he had no idea of where to find work, let alone any means of getting there. As he is contemplating the future, he passes Kyra's dark blue Lexus and sees her purse and briefcase sitting in the front seat. He comes so close to stealing it, stopped only by Kyra's arrival. She gives him sixty cents, and, when she touches his hand to do so, shame washes over Cándido.

When Cándido tells América the news of the labor exchange, she is actually delighted, although she hides this from her husband. She cannot wait to leave the canyon, to leave behind their rough and animalistic lifestyle and to find a more sophisticated one, even if it meant living in a dangerous, dirty neighborhood. At least then they would have a house. However, Cándido does not want to abandon the campsite just yet, and, though this exasperates her, América knows it is useless to argue. Cándido tells her that he will look for work in Canoga Park, and, despite his protests, she insists on going with him. She sews their life savings into the cuffs of Cándido's pants, and the two leave early the next day. Their trek out of the canyon reveals the stress América's body is going through because of the pregnancy, and they have to stop multiple times to let her rest. However, the charming homes and stores filled with household items and furniture enthrall her and give her the energy to continue. When they get to the area around Canoga Park, she feels at home. Everyone is Mexican and everyone speaks Spanish. The two eat in a small restaurant and América bathes in the bathroom, relishing the sound of running water. The rest of the day is not as pleasant. The pair walk around and around, with no signs of work for Cándido, whose worry increases as the day goes on. Near sunset, the two stop and rest on a low wall outside of a government building when they are approached by a man in baggy pants and long hair. He tells Cándido that he knows a cheap and clean place for them to stay. Cándido orders América to wait for him on the wall, and he and the man walk away to negotiate.

Chapter five is simply the "Pilgrim at Topanga Creek" article that Delaney wrote after Osbert's abduction and demise. It is focused on the cunning of the coyotes and how, as humans invade its territory, the coyotes seems to be studying human behavior and using it to their advantage. He uses the example of a coyote who has learned to get water simply by chewing through irrigation pipes. He talks about how, unless control can be exerted, incidents such as the one where a baby was stolen by a coyote right out of its crib on the porch of a house will continue to occur. The article warns readers not to feed the coyotes and to regard them with the wariness and caution that they deserve, for the animals are hungry, cunning, and unstoppable.

Chapter six opens with Kyra thinking about the Da Ros property. She knows that the house is unlikely to sell in the current market at its current price, and she knows that the spell that the house has cast on her will not help her sell it either. Furthermore, she is now frightened to go to the property alone after her encounter with José Navidad and his friend. Had it not been for her quick thinking, she knows that she could have been in serious danger. She is beginning to regret taking on all of the trouble that came with managing the property, and on top of it all she has agreed to spend her evening canvassing Arroyo Blanco in an attempt to convince people to accept the building of a wall around the entire community. She had been convinced by Jack Jardine, who drove up next to her one day and told her that he was sorry about Osbert, and, though it would not bring him back, she could help get the building of the fence approved to keep out coyotes in the future. Wanting to prevent a repeat of what Kyra described as the worst experience in her life, she agrees to help.

After returning home from the Da Ros place, Kyra tells Delaney over dinner that she will be helping Jack Jardine with his campaign to build the wall around Arroyo Blanco. This sparks a terrible fight between the two. Delaney is offended by the idea, reminding her that they chose a house on a cul-de-sac at the end of a lane so that the house would be close to nature. He also angrily points out that Jack does not care at all about the coyotes, that the whole thing is about keeping out Mexicans, and he is outraged that she would agree to such a campaign when she knew how much he hated even just the gate at the entrance of the community. Kyra, on the other hand, yells back that she will do anything, even raze the hills, to make sure that no coyote gets onto her property again. The two sleep in separate bedrooms for the next two nights, and the fight is still on Kyra's mind when she returns to the Da Ros place. Since nobody has shown the house, she does not need to spend a long time checking it and breezes through her inspection. She ignores her fears and decides to check the landscaping around the house, and it is then that she finds the graffiti on the side of the house, spelling out the Spanish words "Pinche Puta," Spanish cuss words which leave Kyra outraged and frightened.

Meanwhile, Delaney is at the Arroyo Blanco Community Center, relaxing on the back steps after a workout, when he hears voices coming through the window behind him. He recognizes one of the voices as that of Jack Jardine, Jr., and he and his friend are having a filthy and highly racist conversation about Mexican girls. This depresses him and makes him wish that he had stayed back in New York. He wishes that he could tell this to Kyra, to show her that even if a wall keeps out Mexicans, it keeps in this dark hatred and racism. However, Kyra has told him that she will be gone the whole evening helping out with the wall campaign, and, as he walks home, Delaney wishes that he could tell her that he does not want to be alone, that that was the reason he remarried after divorcing his first wife, and that he wants a child, though, when he has told her that in the past, Kyra has refused, citing work obligations. As he ponders this, he runs into a man named Todd Sweet, whom he first saw at the disastrous town hall meeting where he waved around Sacheverell's severed limb. Todd recognizes him as one of the people who had been against the gate and as the author of the nature column and assumes that he too would be against the building of the wall. He asks Delaney for his help in writing a counter-argument, but Delaney, presented with this means of taking action, balks. He does not want to cause conflict between himself and his wife and Jack Jardine, and as a result, he dismisses Todd by telling him that he will call him and walking away without taking down his phone number.

Aggravated, Delaney turns down his street when he sees a man walking across the Cherrystone's lawn carrying a white sack. Delaney confronts him, and the man turns out to be none other than José Navidad. Delaney is immediately suspicious and accuses him of stealing. At first, the man is bored with Delaney, but as Delaney's voice and accusations get louder and louder, the man becomes more and more angry. Soon he is shouting back that he is simply delivering "flies." Navidad reaches into the bag and pulls out fliers that he is delivering to all of the houses, and as the man walks away in rage, Delaney is devastated, shocked at what he has become. He reads the flier and realizes that it is an invitation to attend the town meeting on Wednesday night to vote for the building of the wall around the community.


In this section, Kyra becomes the second victim of vandalism, the first being the Rincóns. Although it is implied that José Navidad is the perpetrator, it is never proven for sure. We already know that Jack Jardine, Jr. has a past in vandalism, and there is a very good chance that he is trying to frame the Mexicans whom he hates so much. However, the vandalism serves the same purpose as Navidad's character does. It is an invasion of Kyra's most cherished property and a blemish on the house that represents her American dream, and it is not surprising that after this second assault on what is supposed to be Kyra's sanctuary, she is so frightened that she needs to be escorted to the Da Ros property from here on out.

The idea of the coyote as a symbol of Mexican immigrants is fleshed out even more in Delaney's column, which also gives an insight into his changing, intensifying attitude towards these immigrants. The column is filled with statements that apply to both the coyotes and Mexicans in terms of how they survive in a world dominated by white Americans. Both exhibit cunning and skill to take advantage of the resources put there by residents of neighborhoods such as Arroyo Blanco, avoiding capture along the way. However, Delaney puts a gruesome spin on the view of the coyote by including a story in which a baby was stolen from its crib and killed by one of these animals, and it is the telling of this story that unmasks his true feelings towards immigrants. He is surprised when people believe that he is advocating force against coyotes and population control, as we we will see in future chapters, but that is because he is still clinging to his facade of liberalism. It is clear that Delaney fears coyotes, literal and figurative alike, and views them as a danger to himself and his way of life.

The Arroyo Blanco wall is becoming a major issue in this section of the novel and will bring the theme of walls back into the spotlight. On a surface level, the building of the wall around the community is a security measure. However, on a deeper level, it is a symbol of the wall between white America and immigrants, representing the strong separation between these struggling people and the American dream. It is clearly directed at keeping out the immigrants of LA and keeping in the white American way of life. This wall will also soon trigger the building of other figurative walls. It will build a wall between Delaney and Kyra, for while Delaney stubbornly sticks to his liberal beliefs in theory, Kyra has been quick to abandon them, especially after the invasion of her beloved Da Ros property by José Navidad and his friend and the vandalizing of the wall of the house immediately after. Delaney despises the thought of a wall between himself and nature, the wilderness which he is so entranced with. However, Delaney's true nature comes out once again when Todd Sweet gives him a chance to fight the building of the wall and Delaney fails to take it. He is all talk in his liberal values now, and it will not be long until he realizes that.

The negative side of building a wall is what it traps inside, as Delaney realizes once he hears the highly offensive banter of Jack Jardine, Jr. and his friend at the Arroyo Blanco Community Center. Readers once again experience the enhanced racism of this younger generation, and Delaney comes to the realization that this newly built Arroyo Blanco wall will keep in bigotry like that which he just heard, an idea which depresses him, and rightfully so. Sequestered away from the world and enlightening experiences, racism such as that of the young teenager will only fester, grow, and spread to the other residents. The tales spread by people like Jim Shirley will take on epic proportions when confined in the Arroyo Blanco wall, an idea that anchors Delaney even more deeply in his anti-wall sentiment.

However, the run-in with José Navidad will be enough to make Delaney question himself and his true belief in democracy and equality for all. Navidad's invasive ways are now literally closer to home, as he runs into Delaney right next door to the Mossbacher residence. This enrages Delaney, who, with the stories of theft provided by Jim Shirley running through his mind, proceeds to falsely accuse Navidad of committing a crime and is promptly embarrassed when proven wrong. In addition to his embarrassment, however, is shock and shame. Delaney realized for the first time that he might not be as liberal as he thought he was, and in a way, this means that Navidad's character did what it was supposed to do. It breached the fortress of Delaney's self-assurance and self-knowledge, making him question whether or not he is the person that he thought he was.