The Tortilla Curtain

The Tortilla Curtain Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 7 & 8


Chapter seven returns to América sitting on the low wall in front of the post office waiting for her husband. She entertains herself for the first fifteen minutes by studying the people going past, the fashion of the teenage girls walking around, and the amazing cars driving by her. She begins to worry as the half hour approaches, although she is still enthralled by her surroundings. By the time forty-five minutes has passed, however, she is wondering what happened to her husband. She wants to lie down on the wall and sleep but refuses to, since only bums do that. One bum happens to pass her as she is waiting, reeking of filth and vomit and talking to the memory of his mother in a way that slightly frightens América and causes her to edge away. Finally, after one and a half hours has passed, she decides to go look for him, but her search is unsuccessful. Too timid to ask the men if they saw Cándido pass by, she returns to her spot on the wall, feeling vulnerable and trying to ignore the hounding of the boys nearby. Just as she is dozing off, Cándido returns, his face smeared with blood. The man and his friends had attacked him and stolen all of their money, having cut off the cuffs of his pants, and a deep despair and desire to die fill the exhausted América.

The two of them go to the nearest service station to use the bathroom, Cándido's head throbbing, the pain even causing him to see double for short periods of time. However, he manages to clean himself up and to make himself presentable. Now he has to get food for his wife, and to do so he must force her to do something that he had tried so hard to protect her from doing: dumpster diving. As Cándido leads his wife away from Canoga Park, she thinks that they are going back to their camp in the canyon and feels even more despair, hoping to die rather than go back. However, he instead takes her behind a nice restaurant they had passed earlier and proceeds to jump into the dumpster to scrounge for food. América is utterly disgusted, never having had to do such a demeaning thing in her life, even during the worst times in Mexico. The whole time she berates Cándido, telling him that she will not touch that filth and that he is disgusting for even thinking of doing such a thing. However, Cándido confronts her with the reality of their situation: they are thousands of miles away from home with no money. She must eat in any way she can to keep up her strength.

Chapter eight begins with Delaney contemplating the changing of seasons in California. Unlike on the east coast, where fall ushered in beautiful changing leaves and cooling temperatures, fall on the west coast brought hotter temperatures and drier air, a change which Delaney greatly disliked. The unbearable nature of the weather has gotten him down, though he has managed to find a way to acknowledge the changing seasons in his column by studying its effects on lizards in the area. As he is researching the topic, he hears a knock at the door and answers it to find the construction crew hired to build the wall around Arroyo Blanco. Jack Jardine, his wife Erna, and Kyra had been successful in their campaign, and Delaney had done nothing to protest it. He had ignored Todd Sweet's phone calls and had not even attended the meeting during which the vote took place. He allows the crew the necessary access to his backyard and, after unsuccessful attempts to continue his work, he begins to watch them work. He says that what angers him is not the added expense of tearing down the chain link fence that had failed to keep out the coyote but instead the lack of a gate in the wall, which would prevent him from being able to hike, let alone see, the hills behind his home.

Delaney's mood has not improved later that evening when he escorts Kyra to the Da Ros house, a task that he has been forced to do since the graffiti incident. Kyra bought him a small ladder as a peace offering. He can use the ladder to boost himself over the wall so that he can hike in the hills whenever he pleases, and, since none of the other neighbors would be inclined to do the same, he would have the hills all to himself. Although this excites him somewhat, he refuses to lighten his mood. Kyra, however, is in a much better mood and refuses to let him bring her down. They stop by the supermarket after leaving the Da Ros place. They are hosting a large group of people for Thanksgiving, a group which includes the Cherrystones, the Jardines, and Kyra's mother, sister and brother and their families. As he watches Kyra pick out ingredients, Delaney's mood begins to soften, and he decides to let his anger go, even grabbing Kyra and kissing her in the middle of the supermarket. As they go to leave, the cashier offers them a free turkey since their purchase was over $50, an offer which they accept.

Back in the canyon, Cándido is having trouble with his wife. Upon being forced to return to the canyon, having the promise of Canoga Park snatched away, América had a breakdown and refused to cook, to shower, or even to move. It had Cándido extremely worried, and he was beginning to think that she hated him. However, in a rare stroke of luck, he managed to find work after days of scraping by on nickels and pennies he got from turning in recyclable materials to the recycling plant. He stood outside of the post office, where the displaced men of the labor exchange now stood while keeping a wary eye out for immigration officers, and was approached by a man who brought him to the house of another man by the name of Señor Wilis. Cándido did construction tasks for him around the house for eight dollars an hour, amazing pay in comparison to his last jobs. He worked for him for one week but did not see the man again for another two weeks. During this time, Cándido heard rumors that immigration had driven by the post office and picked up several of the men, making him wary of going back. However, the man found him again and did three days more work for Señor Wilis. When Wilis was drunk, there would be no work, but afterwards he would get Cándido again, and soon the peanut butter jar had over $500. Cándido was hopeful once again - the dream of owning an apartment was beginning to seem possible again. Despite this, América's state did not improve, leaving Cándido more worried than ever.

Cándido heads to the supermarket one day knowing that there will be no work for the next two days. Señor Wilis told him that it was a holiday, the name of which Cándido believes is something like "El Tenksgeevee." He does not understand what this is, but is not too flustered, having the promise of more work at $64 per day. As he goes through the supermarket buying food and beer, he hopes that América will not go into labor until after he can afford the apartment. He gets in the checkout line, dreaming of Tepoztlán, when all of a sudden a commotion starts up in front of him. The cashier has offered two young men a turkey for having spent $50, the same offer that the Mossbachers received. The two men find it ridiculous, not knowing how to cook a turkey, and ask Cándido if he would like it instead. He cannot understand them and mistakes their laughter at the situation for laughter at his expense, hurting him. The cashier tells them that they cannot do that, so the young men accept their turkey, wait for Cándido to pay for his items, and then give the turkey to him. Realizing his luck, Cándido is overjoyed and excited to show the turkey to América. At the sight of the big bird, América breaks out of her shell, smiling for the first time in weeks. She goes to prepare the turkey, and Cándido is the happiest he has been in a long time, a happiness which is extinguished as soon as the wind picks up the coals from their fire and carries it into the trees, setting the canyon ablaze.


Canoga Park is such a comforting place to América because it represents Mexico and the town that América and Cándido came from. Full of the sounds of Spanish being spoken and Mexican immigrants strolling up and down the streets, it may restores América's confidence and gives her hope that she and Cándido can live the life that they dream of. América has been longing to go back home to her family, and going to Canoga Park is almost as good. However, despite this comforting feeling, Cándido is still robbed and the Rincóns' savings are stolen. It is a repeat of the stories of Cándido's past which we read in the last section, and the fact that it took place in Canoga Park proves that the Rincóns are not safe anywhere, not even in Mexico. And yet, once they leave the area, things manage to get worse, as they are forced to dumpster dive to eat, an action which will irreversibly affect América.

In this final section of part II, readers are introduced to the character of Señor Wilis, a mysterious man whom Cándido describes as a genius. This may very well be the case, since the kind of work that he has Cándido doing is much more sophisticated than simple construction work. Wilis' character, as quirky as it may be, represents the possibility of the Américan dream and the welcoming side of the United States. Wilis is a man who has been to Latin America and clearly appreciates the Latin American culture, even making the effort to speak Spanish to Cándido. He enters Cándido's life at a point in time when he has lost all hope, when the labor exchange has been shut down and he has nowhere else to go. Under the employment of Wilis, the Rincóns get closer to their dream than they ever have before - unfortunately the success is not meant to last.

The supermarket plays an interesting role in contrasting the lives of the Mossbachers and the Rincóns in this section. When Delaney and Kyra first get to the supermarket, they are in the middle of a fight and Delaney is in such a bad mood from thinking about the Arroyo Blanco wall. However, as they wander through the market gathering food for their Thanksgiving feast, Delaney falls under the spell of the supermarket's cornucopia and its enormous excess. He becomes so aroused by it that he forgets his anger and even passionately kisses Kyra in the middle of the aisle. He finds the store to be warm and welcoming and is completely overcome by the abundance that the supermarket represents. Cándido, on the other hand, holds a completely different view of the store. He finds it cold and bland, with a highly intimidating atmosphere and highly judgmental customers. Unlike the Mossbachers, Cándido is not drawn by the excess - instead, because he does not have enough money to afford many of the items, he is just depressed by the cold environment that shares none of the characteristics of the familiar, warm Mexican markets. He simply wants the basics, the stability that the Mossbachers already have.

The offering of the turkey is the culmination of the comparison between the two families' attitudes towards excess. The turkey itself is a symbol of excess, offered to families who have spent a large sum of money on food already, and when it is offered to the Mossbachers, they readily accept it, even though they have no use for it as Delaney points out. Cándido, on the other hand, someone who desperately needs the extra food, is not even offered the turkey. However, thanks to the two young men in front of him, he receives one. On a side note, it is interesting to observe that the two men who offer Cándido the turkey are punk-looking guys, clearly societal rebels, and in offering Cándido the turkey they clearly go against the societal norms that we have seen in the novel so far. Once Cándido receives the turkey, however, it takes him a while to actually realize and comprehend what has happened. Thus, the two families' interactions with the turkeys are very different and accurately reflect their differing attitudes towards excess.

The idea of figurative walls arises once again when reading about América's intense, almost frightening level of depression. She completely walls herself off from Cándido and the rest of the world, and the ironic thing is that she is actually following the advice of Cándido's father: when times get difficult, make like a wall. She also does what Cándido did in the beginning of the novel when he was in serious physical pain: she withdraws and begins to reminisce and to long for her home town. However, it is those memories of home and her knowledge of Cándido's love for her that breaks down the wall - unfortunately for her, she might have chosen to break down the wall too soon.