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 2, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration switches to Cándido’s perspective, and backward in time to the day on which José Navidad raped América. It is the afternoon and Cándido is waiting alone in the labor exchange, América having left to work her second day at Jim Shirley’s house. Al Lopez arrives at the exchange and hires Cándido to work on his team at Arroyo Blanco Estates. Cándido is not bothered by the gate that encloses the neighborhood. He “[doesn’t] need a million dollars”—he only wants steady work.
The fact that Cándido is so unperturbed by the gate, while also knowing without question that it is intended to keep “people like him” out, shows how misguided the fears of Delaney and Jack Jardine are. Cándido, at this moment, is neither envious nor resentful of the white residents of Arroyo Blanco. He simply wants to support himself and his family.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
At Arroyo Blanco, Cándido reflects on the first time he came to Topanga Canyon. He was working in Idaho but then made his way to Los Angeles, on the advice of his friend Hilario. The two men, along with a few others, drove from Idaho to California but their car broke down in Oregon. A police car showed up beside the broken down car and the men scattered, since they were undocumented. Afterward, Cándido was unable to find Hilario or the others. He barely survived the freezing night, and the next day he knocked at the door of a farmer’s barn. The farmer took Cándido inside and clothed and fed him. He also called a Mexican woman who lived a few towns away so Cándido could speak to her in Spanish. The woman helped Cándido secure a bus ticket to Los Angeles.
This is a rare moment in the novel where a (presumably) white American shows compassion for a Mexican immigrant. The farmer here is remarkable not only for sheltering and feeding Cándido, but for his effort to make Cándido feel understood and unalone through his effort to connect him with another Spanish-speaking Mexican. This farmer seems to understand the importance of belonging, and he represents a rare positive example in the novel of a genuinely empathetic white American.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
In the LA suburb of Canoga Park, Cándido began working as a gardener. Soon, however, Immigration raided his workplace and arrested Cándido along with countless other workers. Before he could be deported, Cándido made a run for the trees; two young men followed him in his escape. Pursued by Immigration agents, Cándido sprang out into traffic; the two young men followed him and were both killed. Traumatized by these deaths, Cándido spent seven days lying by the creek in Topanga Canyon, “turning the horror over in his mind.” He then went home to Resurrección, his wife at the time.
The fact that Cándido survived this brush with death, while the two teenagers did not, contributes to his sense of being special (in this case, in a good way rather than in a cursed way). This passage is also important because it provides backstory that makes it clear how long Cándido has been striving to make a life for himself in the States.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Cándido works for Al Lopez until ten o’clock at night and then returns to his camp in the canyon. América’s face looks like that “of a stranger” and Cándido notices the welts across her neck and back. Cándido demands to know whether “that rico” (Jim Shirley) did this to her. América tells Cándido that José and his friend “took [her] money.” Cándido viciously questions América, repeatedly asking, “Is that all they took?” América replies in the affirmative.
By asking América what else José “took” from her, Cándido implicitly objectifies his wife. It is almost as though he means to ask whether Navidad took América’s virtue. Asking whether Navidad took something from América minimizes the violation she has endured, and also seems to suggest that América somehow failed by allowing that ambiguous “something” to be taken. Yet again, Cándido’s obsession with protecting his wife—and thereby protecting his own manhood—prevents him from exhibiting true compassion toward her.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Get the entire The Tortilla Curtain LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Tortilla Curtain PDF
The narration shifts to América’s perspective. Since José Navidad raped her, América has been having burning and pain when she urinates. She wonders whether this is a normal part of pregnancy (she has just entered her fifth month), and she longs for her mother and older sisters, who would be able to give her advice. Cándido has barred América from going back to the labor exchange, so for days on end América waits at the campsite while Cándido is away. Weeks pass and América becomes depressed and apathetic, “so still and so empty she might have been comatose.”
América is in pain when she urinates, suggesting that José Navidad gave her a sexually transmitted disease when he raped her. On a thematic level, this passage illustrates the pervasive, destructive effects of rape on female survivors, and highlights the importance of female community, as evidenced by América’s longing for her mother and sisters.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
One day América sees a female coyote close to the campsite. She looks into the animal’s eyes and imagines herself “inside […] looking out, […] know[ing] that men were her enemies—men in uniform, men with their hats reversed, men with fat bloated hands and fat bloated necks, men with traps and guns and poisoned bait.” After awhile the coyote disappears.
América draws real strength from her interaction with the female coyote. The fact that her hallucination allows her to conflate hunters who kill coyotes with men who sexually harass and assault women shows how devastating sexual violence is. It is equivalent to a kind of death.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective. It is evening and Cándido is sitting by the campfire, drunk. América is trying on some maternity clothes Cándido bought in Canoga Park, where he has been working for Al Lopez. Cándido has just learned that his job with Lopez is ending; he is to be replaced by a man who has “papers.” Cándido is in a dark mood, worried about the fact that the dry season will end soon, around the same time that América’s baby is due.
The impending threat of the rainy season is important on a plot level because it raises the stakes of Cándido and América finding permanent shelter. Another important aspect of this passage is the fact that Cándido’s job has been transferred to someone who is not undocumented. Not being able to secure official documentation represents another obstacle to Cándido and América finding success in the States.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
América shows off her new clothes to Cándido and he responds by accosting her with questions about what José Navidad “took” from her. Cándido suspects that América was raped and the knowledge makes him “[want] to hurt her, [want] to hurt himself, twisting the knowledge round and round his brain like a rotten tooth rotated in its socket.” He knows América is lying to him about her assault to spare his feelings, but nevertheless he “[knows] how it [is] going to be, how it [has] to be, [knows] he [will] follow her into that hut and slap his own pain out of her.” The scene closes before Cándido commits this violence but it is strongly implied that he beats América later that night.
Cándido reckons with the implicit knowledge of América’s rape by deciding to beat her. This shows how even “good” men perpetuate violence against women, and reinforces the idea that Cándido has bought into the socially constructed notion that a woman is somehow at fault for the sexual assault she has survived.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes