The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. His car having been stolen, Delaney is back at Kenny Grissom’s dealership. Grissom tells Delaney that car theft “happens all the time,” and Delaney thinks: “It happened all the time, but why did it have to happen to him?” He feels he has been “violated, taken, ripped off” and he is frustrated that no one seems to be taking his situation seriously. Even Jack Jardine has “used the occasion to deliver a sermon,” telling Delaney: “We’re under siege here—and there’s going to be a backlash. People are fed up with it. […] You’re fed up with it too, admit it.”
While this passage highlights Delaney’s continuing victim mentality and growing prejudice, it also suggests a more sympathetic side to Delaney’s character. It seems that all Delaney wants is to have his frustration and confusion validated; he wants to be listened to and affirmed. Fundamentally, this is part and parcel with a desire to belong to a supportive community. The fact that Delaney does not feel supported—even by his new friend, Jack Jardine—shows that shared bigotry is an insufficient basis for a feeling of community and friendship.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Delaney buys a new car from Kenny and heads to his lunch date with Kyra. When he arrives at the restaurant and has the valet park his car, Delaney realizes that he no longer knows his license plate. He feels he is “losing control.” He heads inside and talks to Kyra about the approval they have recently gotten to raise the height of their fence, so their dogs will be better protected. Delaney wishes he could talk to Kyra about the “stab of racist resentment” he felt when he handed his keys to the Latino parking lot attendant moments earlier, but he feels he can’t.
Delaney’s involuntary resentment of the Latino parking attendant is noteworthy because it demonstrates that Delaney’s prejudice is becoming stronger and more compulsive. Delaney is not yet past the point of no return, however; the fact that he can still consciously identify his resentment as racist suggests that he is not yet a lost cause.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Kyra and Delaney eat a quick lunch because Kyra needs to leave to close a house. In the parking lot, Kyra says she’d like to take a brief look at Delaney’s car, but the couple is distracted by the sound of a dog barking. Delaney and Kyra realize that someone has left a dog locked in a car. Kyra becomes furious and demands that the parking lot attendant tell her who owns the car. The boy, however, does not speak English, which only frustrates Kyra further. Though Delaney tries to stop her, Kyra storms back into the restaurant and demands that the dog’s owner identify himself. Delaney succeeds in ushering Kyra back outside.
The most noteworthy aspect of this passage is Kyra’s “exasperation” with the parking attendant’s limited English. Kyra is, of course, upset that the dog might suffer heat stroke, but she channels that anger toward the parking attendant instead of keeping it focused on the issue at hand. Delaney will illustrate this misdirection of anger in even more dramatic fashion later in the novel.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
In the parking lot, Delaney comes to think of Kyra as “glorious in her outrage, a saint, a crusader.” For a moment, he forgets about his own “growing sense of confusion and vulnerability.” The dog’s owner appears and Kyra angrily confronts him; the man responds, “Why don’t you just fuck off, lady,” and drives away. Delaney laments the fact that people are “so nasty all the time,” and Kyra responds, “Urban life,” with “a depth of bitterness” that catches Delaney off guard. Before he can respond, Kyra hurries off to her meeting.
Delaney’s admiration of Kyra’s “crusading” anger will inform his later feelings about his own “crusade” against Cándido Rincón. This passage is thus significant because it highlights Delaney’s tendency to see anger as righteous and “glorious.” Additionally, when Kyra deplores “urban life” she seems to be unconsciously adopting the same attitude demonstrated by the real estate couple she worked with, who wanted to move away from the city because it had too many “people.” This demonstrates how blind people can be to their own prejudices and hypocrisy.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
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Leaving the restaurant, Delaney finds himself, once again, “in a rage.” He decides to go for another hike in the hills, since “the day [is] shot anyway.” Delaney parks his car and gets out to begin his hike but then realizes there is nothing “to stop them from getting this [car] too.” Instead of going for a walk, Delaney hides himself in the bushes; he knows he is being “paranoiac,” but he nevertheless resolves to “sit here through the afternoon, hidden in the bushes, sit here and watch.”
This represents another important stage in Delaney’s psychological evolution. At this point, he is still able to label his behavior paranoid or irrational, but he persists in the behavior regardless. This represents a step backward from how he began the novel, when he showed a greater ability to correct/check his behavior after recognizing it as prejudiced or unfair.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The narration switches to Kyra’s perspective. She is going about her afternoon, stopping in at her office and driving around on other work related errands, when she notices a group of fifty men waiting on the sidewalk, hoping to secure work. She thinks: “There were too many of them here and that was the sort of thing that scared buyers away from the area.” Kyra pulls into the larger grocery store on the street (not the one frequented by Cándido and América). Inside she unproductively questions the cashiers about the men outside.
In this passage, Kyra tries to rationalize the repulsion she feels when she sees the day laborers gathered on the streetcorner. She is most likely genuinely worried about property values falling, but she is also guilty of using her work as an excuse to justify her prejudice.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Back outside, Kyra crosses to the corner where the men are standing and looks around, conscious of the men’s eyes on her. She feels “overwhelmed with anger and disgust and a kind of sinking despair.” She thinks: “Somebody had to do something about these people—they were ubiquitous, prolific as rabbits, and they were death for business.” As Kyra returns to her car one of the men asks her if she wants to hire him but she declines.
This passage further emphasizes that the root of Kyra’s disgust at the sight of the streetcorner is racist resentment—just like Delaney’s—rather than a concern about property values. This is most dramatically highlighted by the fact that Kyra derogatorily compares “these people” to rabbits, as if they were subhuman creatures whose primary motivation was the primal urge to procreate.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Kyra stops home at Arroyo Blanco to see how Al Lopez and his team are doing on the fence. At Al’s suggestion, Kyra agrees to pay more for a wire mesh that will supposedly stop rattlesnakes from entering the yard. While chatting with Al, Kyra spots Cándido, one of the workers; from his limp and his swollen face she recognizes him as the man Delaney hit and she feels “a space open up inside her, a great sad empty space that made her feel as if she’d given birth to something weak and unformed.”
It is difficult to interpret Kyra’s feeling when she encounters Cándido of “a great sad empty space” inside her. She seems to feel compassion for the man whom her husband so brutally injured, but her feeling of birthing “something weak and unformed” suggests that this compassion is tentative at best.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Later in the day, Kyra heads to the Da Ros house to close it for the night. She notices a shopping cart along the side of the road and she drags it out of the ditch. Kyra makes her rounds of the house, musing about how the shopping cart could’ve gotten there. She thinks about the men Delaney told her he saw camping in the canyon and feels panicked that perhaps people are camping on the Da Ros property as well—“How could you explain something like that to a prospective buyer?” she thinks. Just then she notices movement on the lawn and spots two men: José Navidad and his friend. She walks over to confront them without “[thinking] to be afraid.”
This passage shows yet again how white characters tend to use the word camping as a kind of euphemism. They seem unable to bring themselves to use an overtly derogatory word like “squatting” but they also demonstrate a fundamental inability to imagine the actual circumstances of someone like Navidad or the Rincóns. The reality for these characters is far from the kind of “camping” imagined by their white, wealthy counterparts. This passage thus illustrates the vast divide between people like Kyra and the Mexican immigrants she reviles.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Kyra accuses the men of trespassing, but José’s demeanor quickly makes her nervous. When José questions whether Kyra owns the property, she lies and says that she owns it with her husband, and that he and her brother are inside the house making dinner. José insists that he and his friend are “just hike” and Kyra, on edge, replies that it is no problem. Before leaving, José says: “You have a nice day, huh? […] You and your husband. And your brother too.”
Kyra’s fear of Navidad seems to be instinctual. It is unclear whether Kyra’s reaction is at all influenced by Navidad’s skin color, since the reader is given to understand that Navidad is light-skinned enough to pass as a white person. Navidad’s parting words makre clear that he doesn’t believe that her husband and brother are actually inside the house.
Themes
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