The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Tortilla Curtain can help.

The Tortilla Curtain: Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. He is walking home from the community meeting, enjoying the evening air and the fact that there are no streetlights in Arroyo Blanco Estates. As he is walking, a car passes, playing loud music. It is not until “Delaney [is] inside, and the door locked behind him, that he [thinks] to be afraid”; at this point he recalls his pro-gate neighbors from the meeting and wonders who might have been in the car. Delaney is distracted from his worried musing when he sees the bedroom light on and realizes Kyra is waiting up for him to have sex, since she finds “the little tragedies of life”—like Sacheverell’s death—arousing.
Delaney’s strange, delayed concern about the driver of the car reflects the fact that his neighbors’ insular, prejudiced views have begun to influence Delaney’s own way of viewing the world. The fact that Delaney quickly shifts gears and begins thinking about being intimate with his wife suggests that he is still removed enough from the angry prejudices held by his neighbors that he is not in immediate danger of being consumed by them. This balance will begin gradually to shift as the plot of the novel progresses and Delaney begins to feel less and less in control of his life.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Delaney and Kyra begin to have sex. Mid-intercourse, Kyra asks Delaney to tell her once and for all whether he found Sacheverell’s body earlier that morning. Delaney admits that he did and Kyra becomes angry, claiming that Delaney lied to her by not telling her the news. Kyra demands to know where the dog’s body is and Delaney reveals that he has put Sacheverell’s leg in the freezer. Kyra goes downstairs to look. Delaney holds out hope that he and Kyra might still have sex, but Kyra slams the freezer door and returns upstairs.
Delaney does not fully process how upset Kyra is about Sacheverell’s death. Instead, he sees Kyra’s loss through a selfish lens—he is focused on the fact that this tragedy will have aroused his wife. Furthermore, the fact that Kyra asks about her dog in the middle of having sex with Delaney suggests an unbridged distance between the couple: even in the midst of an intimate act, Delaney and Kyra are not on the same mental wavelength.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
For the first time, the narration shifts to Kyra’s perspective. It is the morning after Sacheverell’s death and Kyra is feeling “worn and depleted” at work, even though she loves her job. She feels angry at “the grinning stupid potbellied clown who’d put up the fence” in her yard, since the coyote was able to mount it and kill the dog. She wonders, “Why stop at six feet? Why not eight? Ten?”
As the first of Kyra’s sections, this passage is significant because it provides firsthand details about Kyra’s personality. She is driven and work-oriented, yet her sense of devastation about her dog’s death shows that she is also capable of emotional sensitivity.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Mid-morning, Kyra arrives at one of the houses she is showing. She finds that the front porch is flooded and her simmering anger rises. Kyra makes her round of the house; though she is feeling badly she reflects on the fact that her job as a realtor often makes her feel “like the queen of some fanciful country.” Kyra sweeps the water from the porch just before one of her coworkers arrives, along with a couple who is interested in the house.
Kyra’s sense of purpose while on the job is noteworthy. She not only derives a sense of agency from her work, but also genuine emotional satisfaction. Additionally, Kyra’s no-nonsense attitude—which is demonstrated by the actions she takes to solve the problem of the flooded porch on her own—will affect the way she responds to circumstances later in the novel as well.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Get the entire The Tortilla Curtain LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Tortilla Curtain PDF
Time jumps ahead to that afternoon. Kyra has not sold any houses and she leaves work early with a headache. In her car she puts on a soundtrack of ocean waves and begins to feel better. Before driving home, she heads out to close up five properties that she locks every night and re-opens each morning. One of these properties is the Da Ros house, a property Kyra particularly loves but which isn’t selling because the previous owner killed himself inside. Kyra takes her time wandering through the house, feeling depressed and “numb from the balls of her feet to the crown of her head.” She thinks about going home to Delaney and Jordan but realizes that “she [doesn’t] want to leave [the Da Ros house], not ever again.”
Though Kyra is the least prominent of the novel’s four protagonists, this section hints at a deep (albeit largely unexplored) loneliness in Kyra’s character. Kyra thinks of the Da Ros property as “the sort of house she would have when she was forty and kissed Mike Bender goodbye and opened her own office.” In this way, the Da Ros property represents a dream for Kyra not only of professional success but also of emotional fulfillment, as the only property she has listed that has ever “spoken” to her. Kyra’s attachment to this house suggests that she feels discontented and out-of-place in her own home.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. Having buried Sacheverell’s remains earlier that day, Delaney is now working from home on the magazine column he writes, called “Pilgrim at Topanga Creek.” Part of the column is excerpted, in which Delaney writes about having taken a solo night hike and camping on a hiking trail, “with nothing more elaborate between [him] and terra firma than an old army blanket and a foam pad.” He writes: “I have a handful of raisins and a blanket: what more could I want? All the world knows I am content.”
This passage—one of two excerpts of Delaney’s column that appear in the novel—reveals Delaney’s egotism. The language of this passage is grandiose almost to the point of exaggeration. The excerpt shows that Delaney is passionate about nature. He will later use this passion as an excuse for his actions toward Cándido Rincón and José Navidad, arguing that immigrants like them pose a threat to the natural landscape of California.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon