The Tortilla Curtain


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective. He has collapsed on the path back into the bushes and is trying to remember what has happened to him, finally recalling that he was on his way back from the grocery store after leaving the labor exchange when Delaney hit him with his car. Half-lucid, he recalls being stuck in a garbage dump in Tijuana after failing to cross the US border with América.
Reflecting on his time in the dump at Tijuana, Cándido recalls the words of an old garbage picker he met there: “Life is poor here, but at least you have garbage.” Though he is not fully in his right mind in this moment, Cándido seems to feel wistful about this memory. It is as though he wishes he had as strong a sense of belonging and purpose as the old garbage picker did, despite that man’s abject conditions.
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration shifts to América’s perspective. She finds Cándido, her husband, unconscious at the bottom of the path. América has spent the day in Venice trying to find a sewing job and has walked all the way back to the canyon. Upon finding Cándido, she realizes that “she [is] in the worst trouble of her life.”
This passage highlights América’s determination to find a job despite the obstacles in her way. Throughout the novel, América will continue to demonstrate this kind of hopefulness and perseverance. However, as the plot of the novel will bear out, América is right to anticipate that her identity as a person of color and an immigrant will result in her facing deep prejudice from white Americans.
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration returns to Cándido’s perspective. Still only half conscious, Cándido watches América cooking something over a fire and recalls his  childhood in Tepoztlán, Mexico, and his mother’s death when he was six years old. Though América tries to convince him to go to a doctor, Cándido stalwartly refuses.
Details about Cándido’s childhood are important to the way he now thinks about his place in the world. Cándido is a strong believer in luck, and his mother’s early death seems to have contributed to his exaggerated sense of his doomed lot in life.
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Two days pass during which Cándido is feverish and delusional. Finally back in his right mind, Cándido finds that he is concussed and has a shattered cheekbone. Even more problematic, he thinks, are his damaged arm and hip, which mean he will not be able to work. On the fourth morning after Cándido’s accident (and about three weeks since Cándido and América first made camp in the canyon), América decides to leave camp and look for work at the labor exchange. Cándido perceives this as “a slap in the face,” as if América were calling him “useless, impotent.” He also privately worries that América will be surrounded by predatory men at the labor exchange. He recalls a young girl from the dump in Tijuana who, despite Cándido’s efforts to protect her, was raped by several men. Cándido protests América’s leaving, but she goes anyway, positing that someone might come to the exchange looking for a maid.
Cándido reacts with shame at América’s decision to look for work. This is an important part of Cándido’s character because it helps to explain how he imagines his role as a husband. Cándido believes that he should be the one to provide for his wife and child, and he feels emasculated by América’s desire to work. Later in the novel, this sense of shame will strongly contribute to Cándido’s decision to beat América. Another reason this passage is significant is because of Cándido’s worry for his wife’s safety. Cándido will often argue that América would be safer if she did not go out into the world. While América has certainly faced violence at the hands of unknown men (such as when a gang at the border attempted to rape her), she also faces violence at “home,” since her own husband verbally and physically attacks her. This irony will only intensify over the course of the novel.
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
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