The Tortilla Curtain


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. It is Thanksgiving Day and Delaney and Kyra are dressing for a cocktail party at Dominick Flood’s house. Kyra’s mother, Kit, will also be attending. The party is huge and overwhelming; Delaney feels “lost and edgy and maybe even a bit guilty to be imbibing so early in the afternoon, even on a day dedicated to self-indulgence like this one.” Jack Jardine approaches Delaney and chats with him about the angry response letters generated by Delaney’s column on coyotes. Delaney reflects on the letters, which caught him by surprise. He feels his column was obviously not advocating for population controls of coyotes. “He was just elucidating the problem,” he thinks, “opening up the issue to debate. Certainly it wasn’t the coyotes that were to blame, it was us—hadn’t he made that clear?”
Delaney’s general sense of edginess and guiltiness seems to be setting him up for his spiral into unchecked paranoia at the end of the novel. Another important aspect of this passage is Delaney’s genuine confusion over the response to his coyote article. Delaney seems to be unconscious of the vitriolic tone of his article, which, despite his equivocating, ultimately appeared to blame the coyotes. This obliviousness foreshadows the blindness with which Delaney will descend into overt racism in the coming chapters.
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
The conversation shifts to the wall, and Delaney continues to feel uncomfortable, though he doesn’t say much. The party continues until suddenly a helicopter passes overhead and someone jumps onto a table and shouts, “Fire in the canyon!”
Yet again, Delaney’s silence demonstrates how powerfully affected he is by a desire to fit in with his neighbors and not create waves in social settings.
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Kyra’s perspective, and slightly backward in time. Kyra is enjoying herself at the party; she is particularly excited about seeing Dominick Flood’s house. The man himself has also completely charmed Kyra’s mother, Kit. Kyra hasn’t told anyone, but she is considering buying another dog for Jordan’s birthday. “That would start the healing,” she thinks. Kyra is reveling in her happiness when someone announces that the canyon is on fire.
Kyra’s plan to buy another dog illustrates how seductive the American dream is. Despite her recent passionate support for the wall, Kyra seems to have quickly dismissed the threat of coyotes attacking another of her pets. She has been swept up in the charming image of buying a dog for Jordan’s birthday and restoring her family to the picture of domestic happiness.
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. Though he does not consider himself an “alarmist,” Delaney rushes Kyra home to check on Jordan. He reflects on the previous autumn, when he and his neighbors almost had to evacuate their homes. He is agitated, wondering whether this fire is “a minor inconvenience that would add piquancy to the day” or a real threat. Back at home, Delaney and Kyra turn on the TV and watch coverage of the fire. Arroyo Blanco has not been told to evacuate but Delaney suggests that they “shut off the turkey” that is in their oven “just in case.”
Delaney’s continued tendency to label himself not something (a vigilante, an alarmist) and then to act in perfect accordance with that very descriptor indicates a lack of self-awareness that is a central quality of Delaney’s character. This passage is also striking because it shows that Delaney and is family have the luxury of viewing the fire as an exciting, if inconvenient, event. This contrasts sharply with the reality of Cándido and América, whose circumstances mean they must face this disaster head on, and not from a safe, removed distance.
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