The Tortilla Curtain

by

T. Coraghessan Boyle

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Tortilla Curtain can help.
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.
Fate, Luck, and Egotism Theme Icon

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 contrast, do not evince this belief; they seem more cool-headed and clear-eyed about their lots in life. The ironic tone with which Boyle writes about his characters’ belief in fate suggests that this belief is not only delusional—it is also an excuse people use to justify their otherwise unjustifiable actions or inaction.

Boyle uses irony to highlight his characters’ egotism and show that it is misguided to believe that one has any “special” relationship to the world. For example, as a nature writer, Delaney is convinced that “he [stands] apart from his fellow men and women, that he [sees] more deeply and [feels] more passionately—particularly about nature.” Boyle’s tone in this description is satirical, and the reality of Delaney’s life bears out the notion that he is kidding himself in believing he is a “pilgrim” who is somehow superior to his fellow humans. In fact, although Delaney does publish the articles he writes, it is not clear that he has a wide audience; the only evidence of readership the novel suggests is Delaney’s neighbors, who take offense at an article he writes about coyotes. Boyle even obliquely hints that Delaney might not actually have done all the hiking and adventuring that his written column suggests he has done; while this is never confirmed or refuted in the novel, Delaney’s narration of his solo camping experiences in the foothills makes it seem like these trips could be entirely imagined.

Cándido’s belief in his “special” place in the universe is similarly grandiose. Though Cándido has suffered far more in his life than Delaney has, Boyle nevertheless uses melodramatic language to show that Cándido is mentally exaggerating his suffering. Cándido insists that he has been “cursed ever since his mother died and his father brought that bitch Consuelo into the house and she gave the old man nine children he loved more than he’d ever loved his own firstborn son.” Here Boyle’s language shows that Cándido is not cursed so much as saddened by his father’s abandonment. Thinking that he has been cursed is merely a way for Cándido to avoiding confronting his feelings of abandonment and worthlessness. Cándido uses his belief in his pinche luck as an excuse to indulge in a defeatist attitude. The shame he feels contributes to his decision to beat América. Delaney, too, lets his belief in his “pilgrim” identity fuel the hatred by which he is consumed by the end of the novel; in a fit of frustration over Arroyo Blanco’s new wall, Delaney huffs at Kyra, “I need to be able to just walk out the door and be in the hills, in the wild—I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s what I do, it’s how I make my living.” Delaney ultimately blames the wall on Mexican immigrants like Cándido, and in turn comes to see Mexicans themselves as a challenge to his ability to manifest his “fate” as the “Pilgrim of Topanga Creek.” Thus, Boyle shows that the belief in fate often keeps people from coming to terms with their feelings or taking responsibility for their behavior.

It is significant that the female characters of the novel, América and Kyra, do not express any opinion of their luck or their fated roles in the universe. The belief in fate, which Boyle has clearly denoted as delusional, is ascribed solely to the male characters. Boyle thus seems to be implying that men are particularly susceptible to egotism, and by extension the delusional belief in fate. In doing so, he suggests that women are more rational and less self-centered in their understanding of the greater meaning of their own lives. On a broader scale, by casting aspersions on his characters’ belief in fate, Boyle is reinforcing the idea, which he presents elsewhere in the novel through the lens of other themes, that there is no inherent meaning or governing principle in the events that constitute a human being’s life.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
Get the entire The Tortilla Curtain LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Tortilla Curtain PDF

Fate, Luck, and Egotism Quotes in The Tortilla Curtain

Below you will find the important quotes in The Tortilla Curtain related to the theme of Fate, Luck, and Egotism.
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:
Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

He felt anger and shame at the same time—the man was a bum, that was all, hassling somebody else now, and yet the look of him, the wordless plea in his eyes and the arm in a sling and the side of his face layered with scab like old paint brought Delaney’s guilt back to the surface, a wound that refused to heal. His impulse was to intercede, to put an end to it, and yet in some perverse way he wanted to see this dark alien little man crushed and obliterated, out of his life forever.

Related Characters: Delaney Mossbacher, Cándido Rincón
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

His accident had been bad, nearly fatal, but si Dios quiere he would be whole again, or nearly whole, and he understood that a man who had crossed eight lanes of freeway was like the Lord who walked on the waters, and that no man could expect that kind of grace to descend on him more than once in a lifetime.

Related Characters: Cándido Rincón
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

Seventeen years old, and she was the one who’d found work when he couldn’t, she was the one who’d had them sniffing after her like dogs, she was the one whose husband made her live in a hut of sticks and then called her a liar, a whore and worse. But as he lay there […] he knew how it was going to be, how it had to be, knew he would follow her into that hut and slap his own pain out of her, and that was so sick and so bad he wanted nothing more in that moment than to die.

Related Characters: Cándido Rincón, América Rincón
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

But where were these people supposed to go? Back to Mexico? Delaney doubted it, knowing what he did about migratory animal species and how one population responded to being displaced by another. It made for war, for violence and killing, until one group had decimated the other and reestablished its claim to the prime hunting, breeding or grazing grounds. It was a sad fact, but true.

Related Characters: Delaney Mossbacher
Page Number: 193
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:
Part 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

Delaney felt a thrill of triumph and hate—he couldn’t suppress it—and then both cops were bending over the suspects to clamp the handcuffs round their wrists, and the tall Mexican, Delaney’s special friend, was protesting his innocence in two languages. The son of a bitch. The jerk. The arsonist. It was all Delaney could do to keep from wading in and kicking him in the ribs.

Related Characters: Delaney Mossbacher (speaker), José Navidad
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

It was beyond irony, beyond questions of sin and culpability, beyond superstition: he couldn’t live in his own country and he couldn’t live in this one either. He was a failure, a fool, a hick who put his trust in a coyote or a cholo with a tattoo on his neck, a man who couldn’t even roast a turkey without burning down half the country in the process.

Related Characters: Cándido Rincón
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis: