The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 3, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective, and backward in time. Three days after the fire, Cándido returns to the canyon and finds that his apartment fund money has been destroyed; all that remains is “four dollars and thirty-seven cents in coins fused in  hard shapeless knot of plastic.” Sitting in the canyon, devastated, Cándido considers leaving América and Socorro, thinking that, since the police will be looking for him, “the agent of all this destruction,” his wife and daughter would be “better off without him.”
Though the depth of his loss makes Cándido’s despair here reasonable and sympathetic, Cándido nevertheless demonstrates selfishness in leaving América. He reasons that América will not be in danger because she is the mother of an American citizen, but this logic is naïve, and completely ignores how difficult it would be for América to support herself and a brand new baby if she were completely on her own.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Eventually, Cándido climbs up to the canyon road and busy groceries from the grocery store he usually doesn’t visit—“where they wouldn’t be so sure to recognize him.” Back at the new shelter, América tells Cándido that she wants him to buy her a bus ticket home to Mexico. Cándido thinks: “He wouldn’t let her go. Not if he had to kill her and the baby too and then cut his own worthless throat in the bargain.” When América insists, Cándido dumps the “little bolus of plastic” in her lap “with a brutality that [makes] him hate himself,” and says: “There’s your bus fare.”
This passage further illustrates Cándido’s selfishness and his obsession with succeeding as a “man”—he would rather murder his wife and daughter than admit that he has failed to create a life for them in the States. This passage also demonstrates how insensitive Cándido is to the particularities of América’s suffering; he tends to think that he and his wife are suffering to the same extent and in the exact same way.
Themes
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The narration shifts to América’s perspective. She has been living in the shack for several days, while Cándido goes out to look for work, waiting for hours outside the post office (since the labor exchange is long gone). América wishes she had someone to “show [Socorro] off to” but she can’t help but wonder: “Who was going to admire her, Socorro, the North American beauty, born with nothing in the land of plenty?”
This passage shows how much pride América takes in being a mother. América’s worries for her daughter’s future are significant. They illustrate how perceptive América is to the obstacles that her daughter will face, despite her identity as an American citizen.
Themes
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
One day América tells Cándido that she would like to have Socorro baptized somewhere, and her birth registered. Cándido doesn’t respond. When América then asks what Cándido did with Socorro’s umbilical cord, he replies that he buried it along with the placenta. América is devastated by the news; she was hoping to make a pilgrimage to the town of Chalma and leave Socorro’s umbilical cord on a tree there, as a prayer for a happy life. América has to “catch her breath to keep from sobbing with the hopelessness of it.”
América is gutted by the fact that she will not be able to make a pilgrimage to Chalma on behalf of her daughter. This moment poignantly evokes all that América has given up in order to start anew in América. Not only has América left her family behind, but she has also sacrificed important cultural practices in order to secure the American definition of success for her family.
Themes
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The next day, the rains begin and América feels caught between a desire to “get away, even if it [means] bundling up Socorro and walking all the way back to the border” and a persistent sense of hope that “there [is] peace here if only she could find it.” Standing in the rain, América looks down at Socorro and notices that the baby’s eyesight is unfocused. She waves a hand in front of the baby’s face and Socorro does not respond. América realizes with horror that her daughter is blind.
Astoundingly, América is yet again able to find hope in a desperate situation, marking her out as uniquely heroic when compared to the other three protagonists of the novel. This passage is important on a plot level because Socorro’s blindness is most likely a result of José Navidad transmitting an STD to América when he raped her. Socorro’s condition is thus another devastating example of the profoundly damaging effects of sexual violence against women.
Themes
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Violence Against Women Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective. He and América have been eating cat meat for several days (though Cándido has told her the meat is rabbit). He has been unable to find work, even though he waits outside the post office for hours. One night América cryptically tells Cándido that Socorro needs to see a doctor. Though he feels frustrated by this, Cándido uses it as motivation as he stands outside the post office the following morning. While there, he realizes that “they would have been flooded out” if they had remained camped in the canyon, and the thought heartens him: “Maybe there [is] a Providence looking out for him after all,” he thinks.
For the first time, Cándido seems to feel that the universe has looked out for him. However, the depiction of nature throughout the novel has made it clear that the natural world is inconsiderate of the plights of humans. This will become even more evident when, ironically, Cándido and América’s new hillside camp is swept away in a flood that also kills Socorro. Cándido’s optimism in this passage will thus take a bleak turn in the ensuing chapters of the novel.
Themes
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A post office worker comes outside and tells Cándido he has to leave. Cándido asks if the man knows of work he can do “to feed [his] wife and baby” but the man “look[s] at him […] really look[s] at him” and says, in Spanish: “This isn’t a good place for you to be.” Cándido leaves and waits near the lumberyard, hoping of work. After several hours, he gives up and starts walking down the canyon road, “looking for cans to redeem.” As he is walking, a car suddenly swerves onto the shoulder and Delaney jumps out with a look of “pure malice” on his face. Cándido freezes and Delaney shouts, “You stay right there!”
For perhaps the first time in the novel, Cándido feels seen by a white American in a way that is not menacing or hate-filled. The white postal worker speaks to him in Spanish and seems genuinely concerned for Cándido’s wellbeing when he warns him about loitering near the post office. Though not an outright happy moment on the surface, Cándido’s interaction with this man thus represents a rare moment in the novel in which a white American seems to express concern for Cándido.
Themes
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