The Tortilla Curtain


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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The Canyon Road Symbol Analysis

The Canyon Road Symbol Icon

Many key plot points in the novel occur on or near the canyon road, most notably the car accident in which Delaney hits Cándido. However, the road is most important for the emotional impact it has on the characters. The road represents a place of hyper-visibility and extreme alienation. When Delaney hits Cándido with his car, he finds himself wondering: “How could no one have seen what happened? How could no one have stopped to help, bear witness, gape, jeer—anything? A hundred people must have passed by in the last five minutes and yet he might as well have been lost in the Great Painted Desert for all the good it did him.” In this way, the canyon road is a paradox: despite the fact that one is hyper-visible on the road, one can also be invisible. Yet, this invisibility is not afforded to Cándido or América; it seems to be a privilege of being part of the racial and economic majority. Every time Cándido or América is on the road, they feel particularly vulnerable. América feels as though she is “alone on a terrible howling stage, caught there for everyone to see.” This visibility is a threat to people like América and Cándido because if “any one of [the cars]” on the road can stop, anyone could potentially report América and Cándido and have them deported. Furthermore, the canyon road seems to be always roaring with traffic, and thus also represents physical danger, particularly to Cándido and América, whose only means of transportation is walking. Regardless of their race, all the characters in the novel find the canyon road overwhelming and isolating, despite (or perhaps because of) how busy it is. In this way, the road also comes to symbolize the frenetic pace of American culture, as well as people’s insensitivity to the plights of their fellow humans. At the same time, the characters’ shared dislike of the road suggests that the desire to belong and to be seen for the “right” reasons is a universal one.

The Canyon Road Quotes in The Tortilla Curtain

The The Tortilla Curtain quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Canyon Road. 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 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

He sat up and railed […] he told her his fears, outlined the wickedness of the gabacho world and the perfidy of his fellow braceros at the labor exchange, tried to work the kind of apprehension into her heart that would make her stay here with him, where it was safe, but she wouldn’t listen. Or rather, she listened—“I’m afraid,” she told him, “afraid of this place and the people in it, afraid to walk out on the street”—but it had no effect.

Related Characters: Cándido Rincón, América Rincón
Related Symbols: The Canyon Road
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Canyon Road Symbol Timeline in The Tortilla Curtain

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Canyon Road appears in The Tortilla Curtain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
While driving on the canyon road on his way to the recycling center, Delaney Mossbacher hits Cándido Rincón with his car.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
...learns that the labor exchange closes at noon and she must leave. She wanders along the canyon road , feeling unsettled by the way men stare as she passes. Their leering makes her... (full context)
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
...border control agents and deposited in Tijuana. Lost in these dark memories, América heads off the canyon road onto a side street where she intends to raid a garden for fruit and vegetables,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...the smaller, unnamed canyon.” It takes Delaney a while to find a parking spot on the canyon road due to traffic and construction, but eventually he finds a spot to leave his car... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Rankled by the lack of “privacy” in the canyon, Delaney walks back uphill to the canyon road only to find that his car is missing. He questions the road crew about it,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...exhausted, América follows Cándido to the gas station and then to a KFC located off the canyon road . She feels “scared, angry, defeated, full of pity and hate.” In the back of... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
...along the stream, trying to escape the fire. The two manage to scramble up to the canyon road . They drink from a hose behind one of the supermarkets and América announces, “I... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...hitting Delaney’s car, pulled over on the shoulder. Delaney watches as Cándido jogs away up the canyon road . (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The narration shifts to Delaney’s perspective. He is still walking up the canyon road , tracking Cándido—“his quarry.” He is determined to “[track] this clumsy Mexican all the way... (full context)