The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 1, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective, and jumps backward in time. Cándido has just seen Delaney in the supermarket parking lot and he feels as though he is “being haunted by devils,” including Delaney (the pelirrojo, as Cándido calls him) and Delaney’s “awkward pendejo of a son who’d hiked all the way down into the canyon to violate a poor man’s few pitiful possessions.” (Cándido has mistaken Jack Jr. for Delaney’s, rather than Jack Jardine’s, son. He will continue to operate under this presumption for the remainder of the novel.) Cándido is currently hiding in the bushes at the edge of the parking lot, hoping América will walk out of the store.
This is one of the rare moments where Cándido’s conviction that he is “cursed” appears justified, given the unwarranted and nearly continuous harassment he has been experiencing. It is noteworthy that Cándido has been made to feel so unwelcome in white American society that he is forced to hide in the bushes where he is physically out of sight. The fear of being looked at will continue to be important to Cándido’s journey throughout the novel, as it powerfully invokes his feelings of being shunned and unwanted by white Americans.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
América emerges from a car that pulls up to the grocery store (Jim Shirley’s car). Cándido feels excited but also ashamed: “They would have money to eat, but he hadn’t earned it. No: a seventeen-year-old village girl had earned it, and at what price? And what did that make him?” Cándido follows América into the market and finds her in the refrigerated section. He immediately notices that something is wrong when América will not meet his gaze; he sees in her eyes “the traces […] of some shame or sorrow that [scream] out at him in warning.” América does not answer but instead presents Cándido with the money she earned, and the two embrace.
Cándido is sensitive enough to realize that something has happened to América, but his ideas of masculinity limit the compassion he is able to express for his wife. In Cándido’s mind, it is his role as a man to provide for and protect his wife. The fear of learning that Shirley has harassed América (which would be an indication that Cándido somehow failed to protect her) prevents him from inquiring sincerely and compassionately about América’s traumatic experience. This pattern of silence, shame, and anger will only become more destructive to Cándido’s mental state and to his marriage after José Navidad rapes América.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
After shopping together, Cándido and América hike down into the canyon. Cándido is still in pain from his healing injuries but he feels “buoyant and hopeful for the first time since the accident.” Cándido leads América to their new campsite—they have to remove their clothes and swim across the stream to reach it—and the two then eat together, naked.
This is a rare peaceful, happy moment between Cándido and América. The serenity they feel at their new streamside camp illustrates the theme of the natural world reflecting and reinforcing humans’ inner emotional states. Their nudity in nature as a man and woman is an allusion to the Garden of Eden.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narration shifts to América’s perspective. It is the next morning and she and Cándido are hiking up the canyon to the labor exchange. América feels hopeful that she and Cándido will both be able to find work and begin saving money for an apartment. However, at the labor exchange no one is willing to hire Cándido (presumably because of his injuries). América senses her husband’s “silent fury” and tries her best to keep his spirits up by distracting him with talk. After several hours, Jim Shirley shows up and América gets into his car. Despite Candelario Pérez’s efforts to convince Shirley to hire Cándido and two other men as well, Shirley leaves with América, as he wants only women to work for him.
América’s efforts to buoy her husband’s spirits illustrate not only how positive she is as a character, but also how much work she is expected to do. Not only must she find her own work (while pregnant) but she must also act as her husband’s nurse (due to his injuries) and emotional caretaker, given how much he has personalized and internalized the “shame” of not being able to find work on his own. While América does not seem to resent the emotional burden of supporting her husband, it is another aspect of her marriage (on top of Cándido’s verbal and physical abuse) that is damaging specifically to her.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
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América again works on cleaning the Buddhas, and soon realizes—thanks to the burning of her hands and nostrils—that Shirley has forgotten to give her gloves. América searches the bathroom but cannot find any gloves. She continues to work but her hands are being burned by the corrosive and she realizes she must summon the courage to ask Shirley for the gloves. She worries, not only because she can’t speak English but also because Shirley might “[get] dirty with her”—she thinks, “Wasn’t she asking for it by coming into his house all alone?” América works up the nerve to ask for the gloves, which Shirley brusquely fetches for her.
Like the moment when América felt she must converse with Navidad after accepting his coffee, América’s fear that she is “asking for” Shirley to assault her by agreeing to work for him shows how society tends to blame women for any abuse that men commit against them. As a woman who does not speak English, América is less able to advocate for herself. This passage thus highlights several different ways that the American Dream is made less accessible to people who do not meet certain criteria.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
América works hard all day, despite the fumes of the corrosive burning her throat. She is determined to earn more money and to show Shirley that she is “worth more than the kind of girl who would have lifted his hand from her lap and pressed it to her breasts.” At the end of the day, Shirley drives América back down to the canyon; this time he does not put his hand in her lap. América does not see Cándido in the grocery store parking lot when Shirley drops her off, and she feels hopeful that her husband has gotten work. América waits an hour and then goes into the store to buy some food. When she comes outside again she continues waiting as the sun sets.
América feels the need to prove she is “worth more” than a woman who might have encouraged Shirley’s advances. This shows how a society where men are systematically empowered and privileged pits women against one another and reinforces the idea that a woman must be either virtuous or promiscuous. That América has to worry about whether she might be harassed on her drive home from work again emphasizes the fact that the cost of attaining the American Dream is higher for those with less privilege to begin with.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Cándido does not show up, so América makes her way down the trail into the canyon. When she arrives at the camp she finds José Navidad and his unnamed friend waiting for her. José says, “Buenas noches, señorita?—or should I say señora?” América sprints away, back up the trail—she thinks if she makes it back to the road “they wouldn’t touch her there, they couldn’t.” José catches América easily and pins her to the ground, beating her and then tearing off her clothes and penetrating her with his fingers. As he moves to unzip his pants and rape her, with his friend “waiting his turn” in the background, José whispers to América, “Married woman […] You better call your husband.”
For the first time in the novel, América sees the canyon road—where she is visible and therefore vulnerable—as a possible form of protection. This surprising detail makes the violence she endures all the more devastating.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes