The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. Delaney, Kyra, and Jordan are gathered “behind [a] police barrier at the top of Topanga Canyon,” along with their neighbors from Arroyo Blanco. Delaney and his family have packed many of their belongings into their car, but Kyra is still worried about the risk the fire poses to their home, and Delaney’s attempts to make light of the situation do not go over well. Delaney feels incredibly frustrated, thinking: “She was throwing it all on his shoulders, making him the scapegoat, and he felt put-upon and misunderstood, felt angry, pissed off, rubbed raw.” He finds himself wondering: “What more could they do to him?”
This passage shows how Delaney is completely displacing and misdirecting his anger. He seems to feel angry at Kyra, from whom he has been feeling increasingly emotionally distant, but he directs this anger at an ambiguous “they,” whom he thinks must be responsible for making him feel so unhappy with his life. Furthermore, the fact that Delaney instantaneously and even gleefully casts himself as a “scapegoat” shows how completely self-absorbed he is, given the fact that he has been increasingly framing Mexican immigrants as a scapegoat throughout the novel.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
As he is talking to and sharing some Scotch with Jack Cherrystone, Delaney notices José Navidad and his friend. He “[doesn’t] try to correct himself, not now, not ever again” as he thinks, “Amazing how the scum comes to the surface.” Jack insists that he and Delaney must alert the police to the men’s presence, but when Delaney and Jack arrive the cops are already questioning Navidad and his friend. Delaney interjects, saying, “I want to report that I’ve seen this man […] in the lower canyon, camping, camping right down there where the fire started.” Delaney feels “excited now, beyond caring—somebody had to pay for this—and so what if he hadn’t actually seen the man lying there drunk in his filthy sleeping bag, it was close enough, wasn’t it?”
Delaney has, at this point, internalized his neighbors’ racism. Delaney no longer needs Jardine’s smooth powers of persuasion to be convinced to act and think in bigoted ways. He has fully absorbed and embraced this mindset at this point in the novel. This can clearly be seen in his willingness to accuse Navidad even though he admits to having no proof and, instead, only wanting “somebody” to “pay.”
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The officer maintains that he has the situation under control but Jack Cherrystone insists that “if arson was involved [he] damn well want[s] to know about it.” At this point a crowd has gathered, and José and his friend startle when one of the officers says something to them in Spanish. This results in the officers tackling the men to the ground, and as José “protest[s] his innocence in two languages” Delaney feels so angry that “it [is] all [he can] do to keep from wading in and kicking him in the ribs.”
From the beginning of the novel, Delaney’s aversion to the Spanish language has appeared as a sort of euphemism for his aversion to Mexican people themselves. Here, Delaney seems disgusted by the idea of Spanish and English commingling. This is important because it shows how fragile Delaney’s ego he is, and how quick he is to personalize outside events and details, as if somehow he were coming under personal attack.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Members of the crowd start yelling racial slurs at the men, and when Delaney makes eye contact with José, José spits at him. In response, Delaney jumps José and begins punching him. The officer and Jack Cherrystone break up the fight. When José screams, “I kill you, motherfucker,” Delaney responds with “Fuck you!” Looking around at the crowd, Delaney sees people with “fists clenched, ready to go anywhere, do anything, seething with it, spoiling for it, a mob.” When Jack offers him more Scotch, Delaney accepts.
This is a turning point in the novel, as it is the first time that Delaney has committed an act of violence. From here on out, Delaney will no longer attempt to exert any control over his racist thoughts or actions. It is also important to note that Delaney seems finally to have achieved a sense of belonging and community—as part of a hateful mob. This shows how far Delaney has fallen from the “liberal humanist ideals” he prided himself on holding at the beginning of the novel.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
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By ten o’clock the next morning the inhabitants of Arroyo Blanco are allowed to return to their homes; the winds have shifted and the fire has changed direction and ultimately been contained. Delaney is feeling “hungover and contrite,” and he remembers going to an abortion clinic with his first wife, Louise. Protesters confronted Delaney and Louise, their “faces twisted with rage and hate till they were barely human.” Delaney realizes that, after his behavior last night, “he was one of them now. He was the hater, he was the redneck, the racist, the abuser.” However, even though he is now “sober […] ashamed and repentant, he [can’t] suppress a flare of outrage” when he thinks about the fact that José Navidad claimed to have been only “hiking” in the canyon.
Delaney is ashamed, but not genuinely remorseful. Indeed, he is still harboring a grudge against Navidad, whom he somehow perceives as a threat to his identity as a hiker and nature lover. Delaney’s “logic” here is almost childish: either he alone is allowed to be a hiker, or no one is. This passage demonstrates a convergence of Delaney’s egotism and his growing, now fully blown, racism.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Back at home, Delaney finds his house completely unscathed. As the family settles back in, Jordan searches frantically for the cat, Dame Edith, and Kyra begins making calls about her real estate properties. She gets word that the Da Ros place has gone up in flames. Kyra wants to drive over and look at the property herself, but Delaney convinces her that there is nothing for her to do since the road will likely be closed anyway.
The fact that the Mossbacher home has been completely unaffected by the canyon fire is crucial. It shows that Delaney’s earlier thought—“what more could they do to him?”—is completely irrational. Not only is there no “they,” nothing has actually happened to Delaney or his family or property.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
At that moment, Kyra’s mother, Kit, enters the room. In her hand she is holding Dominick Flood’s ankle bracelet, which she has discovered in her purse. Delaney realizes that Flood charmed his mother-in-law for the sole purpose of using her to escape his house arrest; by sneaking his ankle bracelet into Kit’s purse, Flood was able to leave the area, while his bracelet still showed him as being inside Arroyo Blanco Estates.  As Kyra tries to comfort her mother, Jordan enters the room and announces that he has been unable to find Dame Edith.
Dominick Flood’s escape, though not fully explained, exposes the fallacy of Delaney’s sense of belonging amongst Jack Jardine and his friends. Flood was clearly using Delaney and his family for his own personal gain; it is clear to the reader that much the same could be said of Jardine, who has recruited Delaney as his friend primarily to have another anti-immigration advocate in the community.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon