The Tortilla Curtain


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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Coyotes Symbol Icon

Characters like Delaney and Kyra repeatedly cite the local coyote population around Arroyo Blanco as reason the community should be gated or walled. By the time the Mossbachers’ second dog, Osbert, is killed by a coyote, it is clear that these animals have, consciously or unconsciously in the minds of the white characters, come to represent the ostensible threat posed by undocumented Mexican immigrants to the community. In his nature column, “Pilgrim at Topanga Creek,” Delaney describes the coyotes as “cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable” and frets about the potential for the coyotes to “invade” human territory; this language mirrors the way Delaney thinks about the Mexican immigrant population that seems to be growing in the areas surrounding Arroyo Blanco. Furthermore, despite the fact that stories of humans being attacked by coyotes appear to be merely apocryphal (no one in Arroyo Blanco has actually been hurt, and the Mossbachers are the only people whose pets have been killed), Delaney devotes a significant portion of his column to discussing the threat that coyotes pose to people. This further suggests that Delaney is mentally conflating coyotes and Mexican immigrants, using the former as a veiled way to discuss and malign the latter. To humans themselves, however, coyotes pose a minimal threat. Despite the fact that Cándido and América are living in the canyon, only one coyote approaches their camp; seen only by América, this coyote is a mother and América feels intense empathy for her. Like the coyote, América feels that men are her enemy—men like Jim Shirley and José Navidad, who have both recently molested or raped her. América’s encounter with the mother coyote suggests that, if coyotes and Mexican immigrants are at all alike, it is not for the reasons Delaney thinks; rather, it is because, in the world of white, suburban America, both coyotes and undocumented Mexican immigrants are outsiders, considered by those more privileged to be sub-human.

Coyotes Quotes in The Tortilla Curtain

The The Tortilla Curtain quotes below all refer to the symbol of Coyotes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Tortilla Curtain published in 1996.
Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

She looked at that coyote so long and so hard that she began to hallucinate, to imagine herself inside those eyes looking out, to know that men were her enemies—men in uniform, men with their hats reversed, men with fat bloated hands and fat bloated necks, men with traps and guns and poisoned bait—and she saw the den full of pups and the hills shrunk to nothing under the hot quick quadrupedal gait. She never moved. Never blinked. But finally, no matter how hard she stared, she realized the animal was no longer there.

Related Characters: América Rincón
Related Symbols: Coyotes
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:
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Coyotes Symbol Timeline in The Tortilla Curtain

The timeline below shows where the symbol Coyotes appears in The Tortilla Curtain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 3
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...The two then hear a prolonged scream from outside and run out to find a coyote dragging one of the dogs up and over the fence. Delaney pursues the coyote and... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...idea.” When Delaney is finally called on to speak, he attempts to discuss the indigenous coyote population but Jack Jardine insists he speak to the gate question or yield the floor.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...“the grinning stupid potbellied clown who’d put up the fence” in her yard, since the coyote was able to mount it and kill the dog. She wonders, “Why stop at six... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
The Natural World Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
One day América sees a female coyote close to the campsite. She looks into the animal’s eyes and imagines herself “inside […]... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
The Natural World Theme Icon
...Jordan go see a movie. The family is discussing the logistics of this when a coyote appears on the lawn and drags off Osbert, scaling the newly-heightened fence with ease. Delaney... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...“Pilgrim at Topanga Creek.” In this column Delaney explores different approaches to managing the local coyote population. He writes, “Increasingly, this author has begun to feel that some sort of control... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...Selda Cherrystone. Jack Jardine had called her two days after Osbert was killed by the coyote and convinced Kyra by saying, “I don’t want to make this any more painful for... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...wall committee, Kyra shared the news with Delaney. Delaney was furious, saying: “This isn’t about coyotes, don’t kid yourself. It’s about Mexicans, it’s about blacks. It’s about exclusion, division, hate. You... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...Delaney and chats with him about the angry response letters generated by Delaney’s column on coyotes. Delaney reflects on the letters, which caught him by surprise. He feels his column was... (full context)