The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to América’s perspective, and backward in time. She has not been speaking to Cándido, as she blames him for “everything from the stale air in the bus on the ride from Cuernavaca to Tijuana and the smell of the dump to this place, this vacancy of leaves and insects and hot naked air where men did dirty things to her and made her pee burn like fire.” América is deeply depressed and desperately misses her mother. One day, however, she overhears a bird calling for its mate and “the gulf inside her [begins] to close.” Today, Thanksgiving Day, América is finally ready to forgive Cándido—however, when the canyon catches fire, she finds herself wishing that she were “strong enough” to have given up on life “forever.”
América is again communing with a female animal—in this case a female bird seeking her mate. América’s experiences with female animals demonstrate how powerful female solidarity is. In the absence of her mother and sisters, América seeks connection with female animals, and draws strength from these connections. This passage is also important because it powerfully illustrates the lasting psychological impact of sexual violence.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective. In the face of the fire, Cándido feels “pure gut-clenching terror.” The trail out of the canyon is engulfed in a “forty-foot curtain” of flames. Nevertheless, Cándido drags América along the stream, trying to escape the fire. The two manage to scramble up to the canyon road. They drink from a hose behind one of the supermarkets and América announces, “I won’t get up. I’m tired. I feel sick.” Cándido tries to drag América to her feet, shouting, “You want to die?” América responds: “Yes, I do.”
This passage illustrates a kind of role reversal between Cándido and América. Throughout the novel, América has tended to play the role of motivator and keeper of the faith. Now, because América is so depressed and overwhelmed, Cándido must try to rally her to action. The only reason it seems he is able to do this is because the fire poses an immediate threat to him and his family, which seems to activate his powerful desire to serve as a protector.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
Later that evening, Cándido and América are huddled in the bushes at the rim of the canyon; the fire has died down. América’s water breaks and Cándido leaves her to try and find help of some kind. As he makes his way down the hill he feels like “a fool stumbling through an ever-expanding obstacle course.” Eventually Cándido comes upon the wall surrounding Arroyo Blanco Estates. He discovers a tool shed near the wall and after drinking from a nearby hose he makes his way back up the hill to fetch América.
Cándido’s sense of cosmic injustice appears for the first time to be partially justified. He was not overly careless in building his campfire, which makes the canyon fire truly seem like a stroke of terrible luck. Nevertheless, Cándido’s self-centered approach distracts him from the fact that América is probably even more frightened and bewildered than he, given that she has just gone into labor with her first child.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The narration shifts to América’s perspective. She is in labor in the shed, with Cándido doing his best to prepare for the birth. Though she desperately wants to “cry out for her mother, for Tepoztlán, for everything she’d left behind,” América “[holds] it all in.” While América is having contractions, she hears the sound of a Siamese cat (Dame Edith) entering the shed. América holds her hand out to the cat and says: “You’re the one. You’re the saint. You. You will be my midwife.”
Dame Edith’s mysteriously comforting presence again suggests the importance of female solidarity. This passage powerfully drives home all that América has left behind in order to seek a better life for her coming child.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
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