The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 3, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Kyra’s perspective. It is two days after the fire and Kyra is driving to check on the Da Ros property. She finds the house burnt to the ground, with only the chimneys remaining. Kyra is furious and as she kicks through the ashen remains of the house she thinks: “It was the Mexicans who’d done this. Illegals. Goons with their hats turned backwards on their heads. Sneaking across the border, ruining the schools, gutting property values and freeloading on welfare, and as if that wasn’t enough, now they were burning everybody else out too.” Kyra reflects on the fact that the police held José Navidad and his friend but have since “let them go for lack of evidence.” She thinks this is “a joke” and remains convinced that “they’d done it […] just as surely as if they’d piled up the brush, doused it with gasoline and set fire to the house itself.”
Kyra’s venomous reaction to the destruction of the Da Ros home suggests that she has become just as inundated with anti-immigrant prejudice as her husband. However, Kyra does not express her prejudice as violence, as Delaney did. Kyra’s thinking nevertheless parallels Delaney’s, as she can clearly be seen exaggerating and extrapolating in this moment. In much the same deluded way that Delaney considers hiking his “territory,” Kyra views the Da Ros property as something to which she has exclusive rights, even though she does not own it.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. He is just returning home with Jordan, having taken Kit to the airport. Kyra is home from the Da Ros place and tells Delaney about how angry she is that the police have released “the Mexicans […] who burned down [her] house.” Delaney is also furious that José Navidad and his friend have been released. He is “frightened” by the level of hatred he feels, “afraid of what he might do or say, and there [is] still a part of him that [is] deeply ashamed of what had happened at the roadblock Thursday night.”
Delaney’s fear of himself is the last moment of self-awareness that he exhibits. From here on out, Delaney will completely surrender to his toxic, hateful thoughts and will no longer feel shame about his actions.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Delaney convinces Kyra that they should “try and forget” about the fire, and suggests that they take a walk before dinner to look for Dame Edith. While Delaney and Kyra are out walking, Jack Jardine drives by and tells them, “There’s something I just discovered I thought you might want to take a look at.” Delaney and Kyra get in Jack’s car. As they drive, they discuss Dominick Flood. Jack insists that he is no longer Flood’s attorney but that he has heard that Flood has left the country.
It is worth noticing how consistently casual Jack Jardine is in his tone. Jardine’s chatty, relaxed expression of racism shows how normalized this kind of hatred is in the Los Angeles society of the novel.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Jack takes Delaney and Kyra to the wall, which has been tagged with spray-painted symbols. Jack describes the symbols as “the writing on the stelae outside the Mayan temples,” and Kyra affirms that these symbols are “all over the Valley.” “It’s like their own code,” she says. Delaney feels “choked” by hatred. “There was no escape,” he thinks, “no refuge—they were everywhere and all he could do was shrug.” Jack claims the graffiti is like animals marking their territory, to which Kyra responds: “Only this is our territory.” Delaney finally speaks, saying: “I wouldn’t be so sure.” His words leave a “bitter, bitter” taste in his mouth.
Delaney’s feeling of powerlessness mirrors Cándido’s in a once sense; although Delaney is not as overtly concerned as Cándido with proving himself “a man,” he nevertheless experiences a feeling of impotency as shown by his frustration at his default “shrug” reaction. This feeling will motivate Delaney to take the extreme course of action he pursues in the remaining chapters of the novel.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
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Time passes. It is now December and the rainy season has begun. Dame Edith and Dominick Flood are both still missing. Delaney has begun to stake out the wall every night with binoculars and a trip-wire camera. He is determined to catch “those sons of bitches who’d spray-painted the wall” and report them to Immigration for deportation. Jack Cherrystone has agreed to let Delaney use his darkroom, as he has in the past when Delaney has been tracking an opossum that had been raiding his garage. “Now,” Delaney thinks, “he [will] try the technique on a different sort of fauna.”
Delaney’s stakeout shows how far he has descended into racist paranoia. At this point, Delaney sees himself as a protector, which further demonstrates how his egotism and his prejudice intersect. Another key aspect of this passage is Delaney’s description of Mexican immigrants as “a different sort of fauna.” This language intentionally reduces Mexicans to subhuman, animal status, thereby powerfully evoking the extent of Delaney’s bigotry.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Delaney spends three hours a night for a full week staking out the wall. He feels this is “a crusade, a vendetta.” The night of the season’s second rainstorm Delaney does not stake out the wall, instead enjoying a date night with Kyra. In the morning he finds that his cameras have been tripped. He goes to the Cherrystones’ to develop the photos. He feels as though “the whole community [were] depending on him—there might be ten thousand Mexicans camped out there in the chaparral waiting to set the canyon afire, but at least these two were going to get a one-way ticket to Tijuana.” When the photos develop, Delaney looks at the face captured in them: it is “Mexican, but it [is not] the face he’d expected.” It is Cándido’s face, “a face come back to haunt [Delaney] from his dreams.”
Delaney seeing Cándido’s face on camera illustrates how easily Delaney swaps out José Navidad—up to this point, his primary graffiti suspect—for a different Mexican face. Though subtle, this is another piece of evidence that suggests how prejudiced Delaney’s thinking is at this point: he seems no longer to think of Mexicans as individuals in their own right, but rather as interchangeable members of a homogenous group.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon