The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 3, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective, and backward in time to the night of the fire. América is still in labor and is holding tight to Dame Edith for comfort. Cándido has realized that Arroyo Blanco Estates is on the other side of the wall (which had not yet been built when Cándido was working there with Al Lopez.) He is deeply upset by “the thought that if all these people had been evacuated, abandoning all their things, their fine rich houses and their lawns and gardens and all the rest, then it looked grim for him and América.” Cándido sits by América’s side and prays.
Since he last saw the wall, Cándido’s perception of it has slightly shifted. Before, Cándido disregarded the wall, choosing instead to focus on working and earning money. Now, Cándido sees the wall as a representation of the disadvantage at which he and América find themselves. Without a house of their own, the Rincóns are far more vulnerable to the elements than the residents of Arroyo Blanco.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, América gives birth. Cándido helps with the birth, including cutting the umbilical cord, and feels “exultant” at the fact that he now as “a son, the first of his line, the new generation born on American soil, a son who would have all the gabachos had and more.” However, as América begins to breastfeed, Cándido realizes that the baby is actually a girl. América announces that she will name the baby Socorro.
Cándido has anticipated having a son throughout América’s pregnancy, and though he is by no means devastated at the birth of his daughter, it is important to note the emphasis he placed on continuing “his line.” Regardless of her gender, Socorro is still a first-generation American, but Cándido’s fixation on having a son illustrates the importance he continually places on manhood.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The sun rises. Cándido has stayed awake the entire night, and is relieved that “the fire [has] spared them.” He climbs over the wall to find food. From the house abutting the wall, Cándido takes vegetables and tools from the garden shed, vowing “to the Virgin of Guadalupe that he [will] pay back everything he appropriates[s].” He uses a bucket of dog food to climb back over the wall, and then drags the bucket with him. Leaving the food and materials by the wall, Cándido heads into the hills to scout out a new campsite.
Cándido’s vow to compensate the people from whom he is stealing illustrates how important it is for him to maintain a sense of his own decency, despite his extreme circumstances. For all his tendency to revert to pessimism, Cándido works hard to preserve his dignity, refusing to allow his situation to strip him of his humanity.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
“Five hundred yards up the dry wash that opened out on the development,” Cándido finds a place to make a new camp. As he shuttles his materials from the wall up the hill, Cándido makes plans to return to the canyon in search of the money he left buried there. He finds a stack of wooden pallets by the shed and takes them up the hill to begin work on a shelter. “If the fates were going to deny him his apartment,” he thinks, “well then, he would have a house, a house with a view.”
Cándido’s determination to build himself a “house with a view” is depicted as triumphant in its defiance. Despite all the obstacles in his way, Cándido is committed to achieving the Dream, even if he has to modify the appearance and terms of that Dream.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
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After several hours of building, Cándido returns to the maintenance shed to fetch América and Socorro. América insists that she wants to “go home to [her] mother” but Cándido manages to prod her up the hill. He then makes another trip over the wall, and takes dog bowls and a carpet from a dog house. He also takes a sheet of corrugated plastic from the roof of a small greenhouse. As he is dragging the plastic back over the wall, a woman’s face appears in the window of her house. Cándido freezes, waiting for “the change to come over [her face], the look of astonishment, fear and hate,” but the woman does not see him.
The fact that Cándido expects the woman in the window to react to him with fear and hatred powerfully illustrates how unwelcome he has been made to feel in the United States. Indeed, no one in the present-day of the novel has shown Cándido the kind of genuine compassion that he received from the farmer in Oregon once upon a time. Thus, this small detail drives home the pervasiveness of anti-immigrant sentiment in this Los Angeles community.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Cándido makes his way across several yards until he arrives in the Mossbachers’ yard. There, he uses Delaney’s stepladder to mount the wall. As he drags his materials up the hill, Cándido thinks “of Christ with his cross and his crown of thorns and wonder[s] who had it worse.”
By mentally comparing himself to Christ, Cándido demonstrates his inflated sense of his own suffering and place in the world.
Themes
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
After completing the roof on his new shelter, Cándido sleeps. When he awakens he again thinks about retrieving his money from where it is buried in the canyon so that he can buy food for América, who will be breastfeeding from now on. As he is thinking this over he hears Dame Edith meowing and beckons her inside.
Despite Cándido’s resourcefulness and persistence in securing food for his family, the fact remains that the Rincóns are in a dire situation, especially now that they have a baby. This moment thus serves to reemphasize how incredibly challenging it is to survive as an immigrant to the States.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon