The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective. He has found work intermittently and has managed to save three hundred and twenty dollars in a plastic jar buried at the campsite. He is hoping to triple this amount before his child (whom he hopes will be a son) is born. One morning, Cándido walks up the hill to the labor exchange and finds that it is gone; in its place is a sign that says, “All Persons Warned Against Trespass.” Across the street at the post office, Cándido speaks to several other men about the closure, including Candelario Pérez. Pérez informs the men that the man who donated the land for the labor exchange has reclaimed it; Pérez also says that Immigration will be making sweeps in the area in the next two days.
Now that the one institution that has been of aid to him has closed, Cándido will have an even more difficult time finding work. The fact that the labor exchange is ostensibly the only “safety net” available to Cándido and América evokes how inhospitable the United States can be to immigrants at a structural level.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Cándido is furious, devastated by the fact that he is considered “a criminal for daring to […] risk everything for the basic human necessities.” He wanders the lot and when he spots a car with its windows rolled down he considers stealing, feeling that “the world owe[s] him something.” Before he can do so, a white woman approaches him and gives him some money, which he “involuntarily” accepts. The woman’s “touch annihilate[s]” Cándido and he feels that he has “never been more ashamed in his life.”
Cándido’s anger at being criminalized for wanting the basic necessities of life is depicted as justified anger, far different than Delaney’s. Even though the woman who gives Cándido money appears to be an empathetic character, her pity toward Cándido makes him feel almost as terrible as her hatred would have. Cándido would much rather have the dignity of working to support himself than experience the shame of receiving charity he hasn’t even solicited.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration shifts to América’s perspective. Cándido has told her the news of the labor exchange being closed. Though she works to hide her emotions from her husband, América feels relieved. She is hopeful about the prospect of moving into the city; “Cándido had been stalling because he was afraid,” she thinks, “[…] but now he could stall no longer.”
América’s persistent hopefulness makes her unique among the novel’s four protagonists. The fact that she maintains hope for a better life—even after the trauma she has endured—shows how devoted she is to the dream of making a better future for herself and her child.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
When América tells Cándido that she hopes to have an apartment in the city—or even a motel room—he insists that she will not be coming with him when he goes into Canoga Park to look for work. América insists that Cándido can’t leave her behind in the canyon, in case José Navidad and his friend return. Cándido maintains that América will be safe as long as she doesn’t go up onto the trail; he calls her by the patronizing nickname Indita when he says this, which América loathes. “I won’t stay here,” América shouts at him.
Cándido’s insistence that América will be safe as long as she is not on the trail shows that he is oblivious to how insidious and far-reaching the threat of violence against women is. Cándido’s conviction that América can and should stay all alone in the canyon while he works in the city shows that he doesn’t understand her need for companionship and community, not to mention feelings of safety.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The next morning, América packs up the camp and she and Cándido walk for miles into the San Fernando Valley. América is “exhilarated, on fire with excitement” at the sight of the beautiful homes she sees. When the two arrive in Canoga Park, however, América’s feelings shift—this neighborhood is more rundown, which makes América wary, but it is also populated by “people just like her all over” and this “makes her feel for the first time that she too could live here, that it could be done, that it had been done by thousands before her.”
This passage shows the true power of community. Being surrounded by people who share her language and her culture immediately invests América with hope that her dreams can be made reality. This further underscores the callousness of Cándido’s proposed plan to leave América in the canyon while he worked in the city.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
América and Cándido eat in a restaurant, where América relishes the experience of washing herself at the bathroom sink. Afterwards they walk for hours, but they cannot find a place to stay or to work. While they are resting against a wall, they are approached by a man who offers Cándido a place to stay “just around the corner.” América stays quiet—“this [is] between the two men,” she thinks—and she obeys Cándido’s direction to wait at the wall while he walks away with the man.
This passage evokes, yet again, the consequences of rigid gender roles. Because it is not América’s place as a woman to enter the conversation Cándido has with this strange man, she stays silent. Ultimately, Cándido’s naiveté in trusting this man leads to the Rincóns being robbed of most of their money.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon