The Tortilla Curtain


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. It is a mid-August evening and Delaney is preparing dinner outside for his family. Delaney is feeling grateful for the fact that “life [has] settled back onto an easy even keel.” Over dinner Kyra announces to Delaney that she has collaborated with her coworker, Mike Bender, to “[clean] up Shoup,” the street corner where she saw men waiting for work. Delaney remains quiet, “trying to reconcile the theoretical and the actual.” He thinks that “those people” have the constitutional right to gather at the exchange, but finds himself wondering: “Whose constitution—Mexico’s? Did Mexico even have a constitution?” Kyra insists that she’s “not proud of it or anything […] but there’s just so many of them, they’ve overwhelmed us.”
Delaney appears to be dwelling a fair amount on the “threat” posed by immigrants. Meanwhile, Kyra has become more confident in and vocal about her own biases. Her notion that Mexicans are “overwhelming” Americans by their numbers is thinly-veiled racism: yet again, she diminishes people of color to their (allegedly voracious) sexual appetites and reproduction rates.
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Kyra’s announcement makes Delaney remember an evening he spent with Jack Jardine two nights prior. Jack Jardine took Delaney to the house of Dominick Flood, a legal client of Jack’s who “got entangled in some unwise investments” and is now on house arrest for the next three years. Jim Shirley and Jack Cherrystone were also present at the get-together. Delaney soon realized that the point of the gathering was for the men to discuss building a wall around Arroyo Blanco Estates. The men had a long discussion during which Delaney’s emotions vacillated wildly; at one point, he “looked through his reflection to the shadowy lawn out back, half-expecting to see criminals disguised as gardeners tiptoeing past […]. Was nobody safe—anywhere, ever?” The evening ended with Dominick Flood announcing his intention to have the labor exchange shut down.
Delaney’s dramatically shifting emotions indicate that he is still under the thumb of Jack Jardine. On a broader level, this passage is once again highlighting the contagious nature of prejudice, which is rooted in fear of the “other.” Flood’s decision to shut down the labor exchange is a bald-faced attempt to root out immigrants from the community, leaving them with no designated place to look for work.
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The narration returns to the dinner scene, with Delaney reflecting on the fact that “Kyra had cleaned up the corner of Shoup and Ventura, and Dominick Flood had cleaned up the labor exchange.” Delaney feels unsettled and slightly remorseful, wondering about where all the immigrants hoping to find work will go now, but he reassures himself by thinking: “Why dwell on the negative, the paranoiac, the wall-builders and excluders? He was part of it now, complicit by his very presence here, and he might as well enjoy it.”
Delaney seems only to consider himself as a vigilante when it suits him. When it is more convenient to absolve himself of responsibility, he chooses this route. At this point, Delaney’s concern for the people who will be out of work now that Flood has shut down the labor exchange seems merely a perfunctory performance of compassion.
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Delaney suggests that he, Kyra, and Jordan go see a movie. The family is discussing the logistics of this when a coyote appears on the lawn and drags off Osbert, scaling the newly-heightened fence with ease. Delaney tries to follow the coyote over the fence but is unable to; by the time he runs around the house and out through the side gate, the coyote is gone.
Osbert’s death is a crucial plot point because it will dramatically enhance both Delaney and Kyra’s sense of powerlessness and directly contribute to the actions they take and the attitudes they adopt going forward.
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