The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 1, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration switches to Delaney’s perspective. It is six o’clock in the evening and he is cooking dinner when he decides to run to the grocery store for pasta. Delaney takes Jordan with him but lets him wait in the car while he shops. While in the store (which, the reader knows, is the same store frequented by Cándido and América), Delaney runs into Jack Jardine. The two engage in a heated discussion about the newly-erected gate in Arroyo Blanco. Jack claims that “this society isn’t what it was—and it won’t be until we get control of the borders.”
Jack’s powers of persuasion will develop a stronger hold on Delaney as the novel progresses. Despite the fact that Delaney stands up to Jack in parts of this supermarket conversation, Jack’s consistent appeals to fear clearly work to destabilize Delaney and make him question whether it is worth sticking to his “liberal- humanist ideals.”
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Delaney insists that Jack’s logic is racist, but Jack continues to argue that immigrants “coming in through the Tortilla Curtain down there” are criminals and are costing the US too much money in social services. Delaney feels overwhelmed by Jack’s ferocity and struggles to organize his thoughts but before he can respond Jack Jr. appears and he and his father move toward the cash registers, with Delaney following.
Though Delaney remains clear-headed and confident enough to call out Jack’s logic as racist, he is unable to shake the appeal of this logic. This can be clearly seen in the mental images that overwhelm Delaney—of the “dark disordered faces” of immigrants. Delaney is struggling to hold onto the democratic, humanist beliefs he knows are just.
Themes
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Before leaving the store, Delaney “concedes” to Jack that he accepts the gate because “none of us want urban crime up here—that’d be crazy.” Outside in the parking lot, Delaney witnesses a man berating another man, calling him a “wetback motherfucker.” Delaney recognizes Cándido, and desires “in some perverse way […] to see this dark alien little man crushed and obliterated, out of his life forever.” The yelling man shoves Cándido into Delaney’s car. Cándido mumbles an apology “in his own dark language,” Delaney observes, and hurries away. Jack Jardine says to Delaney: “See what I mean?”
The fact that Delaney gives in to Jack shows how desperately Delaney wants to belong in his neighborhood of Arroyo Blanco. Delaney’s powerfully negative reaction to seeing Cándido in the parking lot shows how rapidly he is beginning to give in to his fear of people who don’t look like him. His desire to see Cándido “crushed” implies that he thinks of him almost like an insect rather than a person.
Themes
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Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narration switches to Kyra’s perspective. She is showing the Da Ros house to a wealthy couple who is hoping to move out of LA proper—the husband has, on a previous occasion, confided in Kyra that there are too many “people” in the city. Kyra knows what the man means: “Brown people. Colored people. People in saris, serapes and kaffiyehs.” After awhile the couple decides not to buy the Da Ros house.
This passage is noteworthy because it is one of the rare passages in which the characters acknowledge the racism and fear that undergird life in this suburban community. Despite this intellectual understanding, however, Kyra will prove unable to recognize or check these prejudices in her own actions and reactions.
Themes
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Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
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The narration returns to Delaney’s perspective. It is the morning after he saw Cándido in the grocery store parking lot and Delaney is still ruminating on the encounter. He wishes he had pointed Cándido out to Jack Jardine as the man whom he hit with his car, identifying Cándido as “a nuisance, a bum, a panhandler.” Delaney thinks of himself as the victim, and considers his twenty dollars as having been extorted from him by “an emotional sleight of hand” on Cándido’s part. Delaney feels too “unsettled” to work on his column so he decides to leave early for his afternoon hike.
This passage is the first clear moment in which Delaney has become paranoid. He is beginning to indulge in the racist fantasies of which he was only semi conscious at the beginning of the novel. These prejudices were present in Delaney from the moment he hit Cándido with his car and considered that Cándido might be part of a coordinated gang effort to rob him. Now, however, Delaney is fully allowing himself to identify as the “victim” and to dwell voluntarily in these prejudices.
Themes
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Delaney decides to forgo his usual path through the main part of the canyon and instead hike along “the creekbed until he hit the smaller, unnamed canyon.” It takes Delaney a while to find a parking spot on the canyon road due to traffic and construction, but eventually he finds a spot to leave his car and heads into the canyon. He immediately spots a pair of sleeping bags along the bank of the stream and feels “embarrassment, as if he’d broken into some stranger’s bedroom and gone snooping through his drawers.” Delaney does not consider himself a “vigilante,” so he decides to “put miles between him[self] and this sordid little camp, this shithouse in the woods” and then call the sheriff’s department when he gets home.
Delaney’s reaction to seeing the sleeping bags is important because it shows how adept he is at willfully deceiving himself. Though he mentally insists that he is not a vigilante, his plan to call the police as soon as he gets home is entirely in keeping with someone who sees himself as a direct extension of the law. Furthermore, this is the first of many examples of Delaney using his interest in nature and conservation as an excuse for his anti-immigrant actions and beliefs. By viewing himself as a protector—either of nature or of other people—Delaney exhibits not only his prejudices but also his ever-growing egotism.
Themes
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The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Delaney continues on his hike and soon hears voices. He thinks, “These were transients, bums, criminals, and there was no law here.” He recalls a woman he met in a birding class when he first moved to California two years ago who told him that she once encountered “Mexicans, she thought,” while solo hiking. The men grabbed her by the ankle when she tried to flee (though it is unclear if they committed any other violence against her) and from that day forward the woman had decided never to hike alone.
That the woman feels the need to specify the race of the men who attacked her implies that she might not have been as afraid of white men. Delaney seems to mobilize this memory as justification for his anger. Thus, his concern for women, while not exactly misplaced, is certainly inappropriately invoked.
Themes
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Delaney discerns that the voices are speaking in Spanish and he begins to feel “angry, like a voyeur”—the hike, and his day, are “ruined,” he thinks. Just then, a man in a backwards baseball cap (José Navidad) appears before Delaney. José says, “Hiking, huh? […] I’m hiking too. Me and my friend.” At this, a second man appears, though he says nothing. Delaney is too angry to feel alarmed—all he can focus on is having the police “hustle” the men “right back to wherever they’d come from, slums, favelas, barrios, whatever they called them. They didn’t belong here, that was for sure.” Delaney leaves without saying anything, continuing along the streambed.
Delaney continues to demonstrate his arrogance when it comes to the natural world. The fact that encountering someone else (particularly someone who speaks Spanish instead of English) while on his hike ruins his experience shows that Delaney feels himself exclusively entitled to the California landscape. Additionally, this passage shows that Delaney has reached a point in his psychological evolution where his immediate response to people who don’t look like or speak like him is to assume these people are breaking the law and to involve the authorities in order to have these people sent “back where they came from.”
Themes
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The Natural World Theme Icon
Rankled by the lack of “privacy” in the canyon, Delaney walks back uphill to the canyon road only to find that his car is missing. He questions the road crew about it, but none of the men speak English. Delaney treks up the busy canyon road to a pay phone, from which he calls the police. He then calls Kyra and tells her, “They stole my car.” When Kyra asks who “they” is, Delaney “[tries] to picture the perpetrators” but all he can think of is “the bruised face and blunted eyes of his Mexican” (Cándido). Delaney ends the phone call by asking Kyra to call Jack Jardine.
The theft of Delaney’s car marks the beginning of Delaney’s downward spiral into racist paranoia. It is noteworthy that Delaney tells Kyra, “they stole my car,” rather than “someone stole my car,” as it illustrates the fact that Delaney has begun to think of Mexicans collectively, rather than as individual people.
Themes
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