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 her in the canyon, and her husband, Cándido, beats her. Even white women, whose race and socioeconomic status offer them some protection relative to América, worry about men committing violence against them. Of the many terrible events the characters fear, the only one to actually occur is men physically and sexually assaulting women. By highlighting violence against women in this way, Boyle is inherently making the argument that this type of violence is more than a threat to be feared—it is a daily reality that demands to be addressed.
Cándido worries constantly about América being harassed by men, both Americans and fellow Mexicans. Yet while Cándido is genuinely concerned for América herself, his worry is also strongly motivated by his understanding of his role as América’s husband. Cándido believes he should be able to protect his wife from other men, and if he cannot, he will have brought shame upon himself (or, rather, América will have brought shame upon him). This shows that Cándido doesn’t fully acknowledge the painful reality of violence committed against women, as he instead measures it in terms of its effect on him. Delaney matches Cándido in this lack of awareness. After the Da Ros home is graffitied (presumably by José Navidad and his unnamed friend) with the phrase “pinche puta” (fucking whore), Kyra asks Delaney to accompany her on her nightly visits to the property. Delaney resents this duty and questions how Kyra “could expect him to put a decent dinner together if he was up here every night looking for phantoms.” Kyra is afraid of encountering José alone, having been intimidated and outnumbered when she first discovered him and his friend on the property. Despite the validity of her feelings, Delaney does not seem to understand or validate Kyra’s fears; instead he acts as if she is being unreasonable and complains about chasing “phantoms.”
Yet as Boyle shows, violence committed against women by men is far from intangible. América is a survivor of multiple attacks, and when José rapes her she not only suffers from PTSD and depression, but also contracts an STD, which causes her to give birth to a blind daughter. Boyle demonstrates that the only way in which violence against women is a “phantom” is that it continues to haunt women long after the violent act itself has been committed. Boyle is sensitive, too, to the intersection of gender and race in regard to this question. Delaney recalls a (presumably white) woman he once met in a birding class, who was attacked while solo hiking, by a group of men—“Mexicans,” she thinks, “or maybe Armenians,” a comment that not only reveals her ignorance but suggests that her fear of the men was heightened because they were not white. One of the men grabbed the woman as she tried to flee, and it is unclear whether the men committed further violence. From that point on, the woman stopped going on hikes alone. Beyond demonstrating that white women are justified in fearing men (even if their fear is colored by racial bias), this detail also shows that Boyle is attuned to the fact that white, affluent women are often able to insulate themselves from dangerous situations that nonwhite, economically disadvantaged women like América are not able to avoid. América does not have a home in the States and she does not always have Cándido by her side—and even when she does he is not always able to protect her, as on the night when she was almost gang raped when crossing the border. In this way Boyle is not only highlighting the urgency of the problem of violence against women, he is also emphasizing that violence is an even more pressing threat to women of color than to white women.
By singling out violence against women as the one human disaster that actually comes to fruition in the novel, Boyle shows that women have far more cause to fear men than men like Delaney and Cándido have to fear one another.
Violence Against Women ThemeTracker
Violence Against Women Quotes in The Tortilla Curtain
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.
A moment ago she’d been out there on the road, exposed and vulnerable—frightened, always frightened—and now she was safe. But the thought of that frightened her too: what kind of life was it when you felt safe in the bushes, crouching to piss in the dirt like a dog? Was that what she’d left Tepoztlán for?
There, in the quickening night, with his dirty fingers inside her as if they belonged there and the Indian waiting his turn, he stopped to put a stick of gum in his mouth and casually drop the wrapper on the exposed skin of her back, no more concerned than if he were sitting on a stool in a bar.
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.
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.
There was a long silence, and she knew they were both thinking about that inadmissible day and what she couldn’t tell him and how he knew it in his heart and how it shamed him. If they lived together a hundred years she could never bring that up to him, never go further than she just had. Still, how could he argue with the fact of that? This was no safe haven, this was the wild woods.
All she could see was the image of those animals at the border, the half-a-gringo and his evil eyes and filthy insinuating fingers, the fat white man with his fat white hands, and she withdrew into herself, dwelled there deep inside where nobody could touch her. “Hey, baby,” they called when they saw her there trying to melt into the darkness, “hey, ruca, hey, sexy, ¿quieres joder conmigo?”