The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Tortilla Curtain: Part 3, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narration shifts to América’s perspective. Cándido has just arrived at the shelter and to América he looks as though he “just saw a ghost.” Cándido explains that “that gabacho” tried to hit him with his car again. “He’s like a madman,” Cándido says. “If we were back at home, back in the village, they’d take him to the city in a straitjacket and lock him up in the asylum.” América tells Cándido that she thinks Delaney is a racist. “Maybe he hates us because we’re Mexican,” she says. “How could anybody be that vicious?” Cándido asks.
In this passage América again shows evidence of her clear-sightedness and her maturity. She incisively describes Delaney’s mental state—“he hates us because we’re Mexican”—even though her husband cannot wrap his head around such hatred. Cándido’s insistence that Delaney would be “locked up” back in Mexico emphasizes how irrational Delaney’s behavior truly is when viewed from an outside perspective.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
After eating dinner, América tells Cándido that something is wrong with Socorro’s eyes. Cándido insists that América is “crazy.” América feels “all the pain and worry and fear of the past few days, weeks, months” come “pouring out of her.” She tells Cándido: “It was my pee, my pee burned, that’s what did it, because of—[…] because of those men.” Before Cándido can answer, Delaney’s face appears at the door of the shelter and América is horrified to see that he holds a gun in his hand.
It is unclear whether América understands that Navidad gave her an infection; it seems plausible that she partly views Socorro’s condition as punishment for the shame of having been raped. However, the fact that América explicitly connects her burning pee with Socorro’s’ blindness suggests that she is conscious of the fact that Navidad is ultimately to blame for both.
Themes
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective, and slightly backward in time. He hears voices on the hill and is “outraged,” thinking: “How many of them were there? […] This couldn’t go on anymore, this destruction of the environment, this trashing of the hills and the creeks and the marshes and everyplace else; this was the end, the end of it.” Delaney crashes through the entrance to Cándido and América’s shelter, and before he can take any further action hears “a sound like the wildest surf pounding against the rugged shore.” He is suddenly “lifted up from behind by some monstrous force.” The hillside is flooding, and Delaney finds himself “drawn so much closer to that cold black working heart of the world than he’d ever dreamed possible.”
It is almost laughable that Delaney thinks his behavior has anything to do with his desire to stop “the destruction of the environment.” The narration’s tone makes it clear that Delaney is willfully deluding himself in this regard. The flood is the cataclysmic event that closes the novel, the fact that Delaney is caught in it stems directly from his bigotry: if he had not gone out “hunting” Cándido, he would have been safe. This suggests that indulging in hatred can be truly devastating to a person, in addition to the victim of their hatred.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Cándido’s perspective. The mountain has “turned to pudding, to mush” and it is carrying Cándido and his family away with it. Cándido grabs tight to América and Socorro and holds on. As he is “pitched into he blackness of this new river that [is] rushing toward completion in the old river below,” he curses his luck. He thinks: “All he wanted was work, and this was his fate […] a violated wife and a blind baby and crazy white man with a gun, and even that wasn’t enough […] they all had to drown like rats in the bargain.”
This passage shows that the Rincóns’ suffering is dwarfed by the magnitude of nature’s power, underscoring the novel’s theme that the natural world is indifferent to the human world. Though it is understandable that Cándido would be bewildered by the terrible fate toward which it seems he and his family are hurtling, he nevertheless comes across as a less than sympathetic character, given how stubbornly selfish he is in his thinking.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The Tortilla Curtain PDF
Cándido is swept into the raging water of Topanga Creek, in the canyon, and he loses his grip on América. He is sucked under the water and is sure he is going to die. “Suddenly,” however, “the water [spits] him up in his wife’s arms.” Cándido realizes that he and América have been fetched up by the water onto the roof of the post office. América is sobbing and Cándido realizes that Socorro is missing from her arms. He feels “beyond cursing, beyond grieving, numbed right through to the core him.” Still, when he sees Delaney’s face in the water “and the white hand grasping at the tiles” of the post office roof, Cándido reaches down and “[takes] hold” of Delaney’s hand.
Socorro’s death is the most devastating plot point of this passage. Her death also vaguely recalls Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, in which the Joads set Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby adrift in a water burial on a flooded river. The final image of the novel is also hugely important. In rescuing Delaney, Cándido becomes the best version of himself, and a far better person than Delaney.
Themes
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Related Quotes