The Tortilla Curtain


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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Themes and Colors
Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon
Belonging and the American Dream Theme Icon
Violence Against Women Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Tortilla Curtain, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Anger, Hatred, and Bigotry

At the heart of The Tortilla Curtain is the psychological unraveling of Delaney Mossbacher. At the beginning of the novel, Delaney is a self-professed liberal who considers gated communities “intimidating and exclusionary, antidemocratic even” and challenges his neighbors on their racist views. However, this disguises a more deeply engrained bigotry which gradually emerges. In the opening pages of the novel, for instance, Delaney runs a man over with his car and then sends him…

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The Natural World

As in The Grapes of Wrath, which is quoted as the epigraph of this novel, the natural landscape in The Tortilla Curtain acts as a character in its own right. The four main characters all have their own unique relationships to the natural world. Delaney views nature as a source of inspiration and prides himself on being attuned to his surroundings. Kyra views the landscape from the perspective of a realtor, thinking in terms…

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Fate, Luck, and Egotism

Cándido and Delaney are both very concerned with their place in the cosmos. They fixate on what the world “owes” them and they conceive of their lives in sometimes mythical terms. Both men, and Cándido in particular, express the idea that there is a mysterious logic governing the way the world operates, even as they find themselves cursing this logic—or, as Cándido calls it, his pinche (damned or rotten) luck. América and Kyra, by…

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Belonging and the American Dream

Through his exploration of the four protagonists’ desires, Boyle presents a unique picture of the frequently invoked “American Dream.” In Boyle’s view, there is a depth to this dream that tends to go unacknowledged. On the surface, the “American Dream” is one of economic prosperity, social mobility, and overall self-sufficiency—goals all firmly rooted in an ideology of individualism. Both of the novel’s main couples desire these aspects of the Dream for themselves. But Boyle shows…

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Violence Against Women

While Delaney and Kyra fret over what they perceive to be the threat immigrants pose to their community (e.g., theft and dropping real estate prices) and Cándido is constantly aware of the possibility of deportation, the only threat that comes to fruition in the novel is that of violence against women. A group of men attempts to gang rape América near the border, Jim Shirley molests her in his car, José Navidad succeeds in raping…

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