The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Tortilla Curtain can help.
The Wall Symbol Icon

The wall around Arroyo Blanco Estates is erected nearly two thirds of the way into the novel, and is a powerful symbol of the racist fear and resentment that permeates the entire book. The wall is a particularly important symbol in regard to Delaney’s character development. Delaney is initially opposed to the wall (and its precursor, the gate), though he is unwilling to publicly voice his opposition; by the end of the novel, he is spending countless hours in the rain and dark in order to discover who has defaced the wall. In this way, Delaney’s shifting relationship to the physical wall serves as a metaphor for his evolving relationship to the discrimination and paranoia the wall represents—which, by the end of the novel, he has come wholly to embrace. The wall is also important in the way that it fails to evoke a deeper sense of community among the residents of Arroyo Blanco. In theory, the wall was meant to make these residents feel both physically safer and more emotionally invested in the safety and wellness of their neighbors. Yet, the wall succeeds only in making people like Delaney even more paranoid than before, showing that defining and shunning a group of “outsiders” does relatively little to make the “insiders” feel any more content with their lives. In a rare moment of insight, Delaney also realizes “what [the wall] keeps in” when he overhears a local boy making foul-mouthed, racist jokes; in this moment, he recognizes the wall as “poisonous.” However, what Delaney fails to realize is that the wall itself is not a poison; rather, it is merely an externalization of the poisonous hatred that has been simmering amongst the residents of Arroyo Blanco all along.

The Wall Quotes in The Tortilla Curtain

The The Tortilla Curtain quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Wall. 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 3 Quotes

He thought of the development he’d grown up in, the fenceless expanse of lawns, the shared space, the deep lush marshy woods where he’d first discovered ferns, frogs, garter snakes, the whole shining envelope of creation. There was nothing like that anymore. Now there were fences. Now there were gates.

Related Characters: Delaney Mossbacher
Related Symbols: The Wall
Page Number: 41-2
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

The wall. Of course. He should have guessed. Ninety percent of the community was already walled in, tireless dark men out there applying stucco under conditions that would have killed anybody else, and now the last link was coming to Delaney, to his own dogless yard, hemming him in, obliterating his view—protecting him despite himself. And he’d done nothing to protest it, nothing at all.

Related Characters: Delaney Mossbacher
Related Symbols: The Wall
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Tortilla Curtain LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Tortilla Curtain PDF

The Wall Symbol Timeline in The Tortilla Curtain

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Wall appears in The Tortilla Curtain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 3
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
...realized that the point of the gathering was for the men to discuss building a wall around Arroyo Blanco Estates. The men had a long discussion during which Delaney’s emotions vacillated... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...on the property. In an hour Kyra will be canvassing Arroyo Blanco Estates about “the wall issue,” along with Erna Jardine and Selda Cherrystone. Jack Jardine had called her two days... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
After agreeing to join the wall committee, Kyra shared the news with Delaney. Delaney was furious, saying: “This isn’t about coyotes,... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
...up to be like these boys. “That’s what he’d tried to tell Kyra over this wall business,” Delaney thinks. “It might keep them out, but look what it keeps in.” Delaney... (full context)
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...that he and his wife are trying to convince their neighbors to vote against the wall at the community meeting the following week. Delaney feels conflicted—he is morally opposed to the... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...flier in his hand he realizes it is a message from Jack Jardine about the wall. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...has arrived and needs access to the Mossbachers’ property to continue their work erecting the wall, which is already ninety percent finished. Delaney tries to continue writing while the men work... (full context)
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...Kyra cheerfully shows Delaney a stepladder she bought for him and Delaney realizes that the wall will help keep his neighbors from hiking, too, meaning he will “have the hills to... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
The conversation shifts to the wall, and Delaney continues to feel uncomfortable, though he doesn’t say much. The party continues until... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...feels like “a fool stumbling through an ever-expanding obstacle course.” Eventually Cándido comes upon the wall surrounding Arroyo Blanco Estates. He discovers a tool shed near the wall and after drinking... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...comfort. Cándido has realized that Arroyo Blanco Estates is on the other side of the wall (which had not yet been built when Cándido was working there with Al Lopez.) He... (full context)
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...entire night, and is relieved that “the fire [has] spared them.” He climbs over the wall to find food. From the house abutting the wall, Cándido takes vegetables and tools from... (full context)
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
...finds a place to make a new camp. As he shuttles his materials from the wall up the hill, Cándido makes plans to return to the canyon in search of the... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...Cándido manages to prod her up the hill. He then makes another trip over the wall, and takes dog bowls and a carpet from a dog house. He also takes a... (full context)
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...until he arrives in the Mossbachers’ yard. There, he uses Delaney’s stepladder to mount the wall. As he drags his materials up the hill, Cándido thinks “of Christ with his cross... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
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... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
...Shirley pulls through the gate Delaney sees by the light of his headlights that the wall has been graffitied again. “This [is] it,” he thinks, “the declaration of war, the knife... (full context)
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
...develops the six new photographs and finds that it is Jack Jr. who graffitied the wall, “the spray can plainly visible in his big white fist.” The revelation “almost [stops] him.... (full context)