The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration returns to Delaney’s perspective. Four days after hitting Cándido, Delaney is preparing breakfast for his stepson, Jordan. He will then take Jordan to school while his wife, Kyra, leaves for her real estate job. Delaney will return home and work on his monthly column, “Pilgrim at Topanga Creek,” which he writes for a nature magazine. As Delaney goes about his morning routine, he hears intermittent yelping noises from his dogs, Sacheverell and Osbert, who are outside in the yard.
Delaney’s nonchalance about the noises he hears from his backyard suggests that he is not as attuned to nature as he prides himself on being. He is instead absorbed in the mundane activities of his life, and this will ultimately lead to his wife’s dog being attacked by a coyote. The fact that Delaney is oblivious to this threat before the violence actually occurs suggests that he has an inflated sense of self when it comes to his connectedness to nature. This will make some of Delaney’s later claims in the novel seem preachy.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Kyra enters the kitchen and converses briefly with Delaney. The two then hear a prolonged scream from outside and run out to find a coyote dragging one of the dogs up and over the fence. Delaney pursues the coyote and Kyra tails him. As he searches the bushes for the dog, Delaney thinks with frustration about his neighbors’ refusal to heed his warning not to feed the coyotes. Delaney thinks his neighbors are idiots since they are instead fixated on constructing a gate around the neighborhood “to keep out those very gangbangers, taggers and carjackers they’d come here to escape.”
This passage is extremely significant to understanding Delaney’s psychology. Delaney thinks of himself as more sophisticated than his neighbors—he views their concerns about human threats to neighborhood safety as almost primitive. Meanwhile, he thinks of himself as a sort of prophet, someone who is able to clearly discern the real threat to Arroyo Blanco Estates: the surrounding natural world. Over the course of the novel, as Delaney becomes caught up in the virulent bigotry of his neighbors, he will begin to use natural threats, such as coyotes, as a coded way to talk about human threats (mainly Mexican immigrants). In this way, Delaney will ironically attempt to preserve his status as a kind of intellectual even as he begins to express prejudice even more overtly than his neighbors.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
That evening, Delaney attends a neighborhood meeting for the people living at Arroyo Blanco Estates. The meeting is a special session convened by Jack Jardine in order for the community to vote on “the gate issue.” Though Delaney privately considers the gate “an absurdity,” he has not spoken about it in public because he considers it “a fait accompli.” Delaney is only present at this meeting because he intends to inform his neighbors about his dog’s death that morning. He has Sacheverell’s mangled leg in the pocket of his windbreaker. That morning, Kyra insisted Delaney “find the dog at all cost,” though she does not yet know her husband was successful in finding these remains.
Delaney’s attitude vis-à-vis the gate issue is important because it reveals that he is not as committed to his “liberal humanist ideals” as he claims he is. Delaney might tell himself that the gate is discriminatory and therefore absurd, but the fact that he is not willing to actually voice these opinions suggests that he is not as committed to his lofty democratic ideals as he would like to think he is. Furthermore, the fact that Delaney thinks of the installation of the gate as something he cannot influence (a fait accompli) is telling, as his feeling of powerlessness and lack of control later in the novel will powerfully fuel his turn to anti-immigrant hatred.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Delaney listens as various community members, including Jim Shirley and Jack Cherrystone, comment on the gate issue. He begins to worry, thinking: “Crime? Up here? Wasn’t that what they’d come here to escape? […] All of a sudden, the gate didn’t sound like such a bad idea.” When Delaney is finally called on to speak, he attempts to discuss the indigenous coyote population but Jack Jardine insists he speak to the gate question or yield the floor. Delaney panics and begins waving Sacheverell’s leg over his head.
It is important to note how catching the paranoia of Delaney’s neighbors is. While this suggests that bigotry is, at least on some level, contagious, it also further supports the notion that Delaney was primed to practice bigotry from the beginning of the novel. Finally, Delaney’s hesitation in this passage suggests the major influence that his neighbors have on him; this seems directly related to Delaney’s desire to meaningfully fit in and belong to his community.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
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Later that night, Delaney sits outside the community meeting as the vote is held, feeling foolish about his behavior. Jack Jr., Jack Jardine’s son, approaches Delaney and begins chatting with him. Eventually, Jack Jr. asks about “the Mexican.” Several nights ago, Delaney spoke to Jack Jardine about his car accident (per Kyra’s request) and Delaney now recalls that Jack Jr. was present. Jack Jr. continues to question Delaney about where “the Mexican’s” camp is located. Delaney finds this questioning odd but answers “almost reflexively—he had nothing to hide.” Eventually he leaves, heading for home and making a mental note to put the dog’s leg in the freezer when he gets there.
Delaney’s conversation with Jack Jr. is important because it re-emphasizes Delaney’s self-centeredness. The specificity of Jack Jr.’s questions make it clear to the reader that Jack Jr. is trying to determine the location of the Rincóns’ camp in order to visit it. (He later does, vandalizing it along with an unnamed friend.) However, the only thing Delaney can think is that Jack Jr.’s line of questioning might have something to do with him; he answers the questions to prove that he, Delaney, has nothing to hide. Delaney’s tendency to think first and foremost of himself will grow more pronounced as the novel unfolds.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon