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“Tortilla Curtain” by T.C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle establishes the general setting of “Tortilla Curtain” by giving detailed information on the place and hints about the time. The place of action is established in the first chapter when Delaney Mossbacher hits a Mexican with his car. This accident occurs near Topanga Creek (cf. p. 12) in a suburban area around Los Angeles, California1. Throughout the novel, Boyle uses original sites around Los Angeles in the plot, making the novel realistic. However, the time of action is not as clearly introduced as the place. The Diet Coke on the backseat of the car (cf. p. 9) leads to the assumption that the novel is set up after 19822. This assumption is supported by a major topic of the novel: Mexican immigration, which has developed decisively after 19703.

More detailed information on the time is given when the reader learns that the exact model of Delaney’s car is Acura Vigor GS (cf. p. 151). This car was produced by Honda after 19924. The mood of “Tortilla Curtain” is difficult to determine. It alternates between hopeful and hopeless; sometimes, it is aggressive and often gloomy. The changes of mood result from the change of perspective in each chapter, showing two different views on the same setting in an alternating pattern. The changes of perspective also affect society, which Boyle depicts in “Tortilla Curtain.” On the one side, there are Americans, who live in a clean and safe area in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and on the other side, there are illegal Mexicans who have to struggle to survive. Both societies exist in parallel and live in the same area, yet they cannot differ more.

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The differences in perception of the surrounding can be seen in a major leitmotif of the novel: cars and traffic; for Americans, cars are convenient tools for transportation and symbols of luxury. Kyra Mossbacher even considers her car as a sanctuary (cf. p. 80), in which she can withdraw from the world and flow with the traffic. Kyra’s car even protects Jos� Navidad and his friend (cf. p. 170), but Am�rica is exposed defencelessly to them (cf. p. 147). For America and Candido, cars are threatening (cf. p. 24), yet they are one of their few hopes to get work (cf. p. 90). For them, cars also symbolize the unattainable. The American families depicted in the novel have at least one car; their houses are not specially mentioned because they allegorize the standard. Am�rica and C�ndido do not even dream of a car, for they do not even have a proper shelter.

Delaney Mossbacher, in opposition to Am�rica and C�ndido, does not have material desires. He lives a fulfilled life; he does not have to work to make his living and enjoy his hikes. But his only emotional desire of having a baby with Kyra is denied. Delaney’s attitude differs utterly from Martin’s. Whereas Martin is restless and his urge for more seems insatiable, Delaney is content with his status. Martin’s character would not allow him to sit idly at home and watch after the children or write articles. If he had inherited money from his parents like Delaney, he would not use it to maintain his average, but he would try to make more out of it.

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Boyle hides Delaney Mossbacher’s greatest fear in his surname. The liberal humanist Delaney (cf. p. 9) is afraid of becoming a “mossback”5 like most of his neighbours. Whenever he perceives that his thoughts are moving away from liberal ideas, he is plagued by conscience. Towards the end of the novel, he develops racist ideas, which finally end in a gunned search (cf. p. 348) and the metamorphosis into a racist is complete. Martin’s and Delaney’s commonality, apart from the German origin, is that their ideals collapse. The huge difference between them is the cause for their ideals to collapse. Delaney is a person who eschews conflicts if they seem to threaten the peaceful family circle. He does not want to oppose Kyra on the gate issue in order not to have another quarrel. The welfare of the family is his highest priority, and to provide it, he adapts to the conservative views of his neighbours.

The breakdown of Martin’s dream is based on his restlessness. Unlike Delaney, he is not able to be satisfied with the achievement. Whereas Delaney has his family, which makes him step back from his own ambitions, Martin is a dreamer with the addiction to wanting to make dreams come true, and there is no one to stop him. In “Tortilla Curtain,” each character reflects different elements of the American Dream. Delaney believes at the beginning of the novel in the peaceful coexistence of different cultures within a nation.

He trusts in the constitution, and he believes that the human rights covered by the constitution have to be applied to all human beings in the country (cf. pp. 188-189). But in the end, he even refuses Am�rica and C�ndido the right to live and is willing to hunt them with his gun. Boyle clearly criticizes the attitude of upper-class Americans towards immigration. It is ironic, that he gives names of recent European immigrants to racists like Jardine, Obst and Liebermann, whose intention is to reduce immigration. Kyra’s character shows similarities to Martin Dressler.

  4. “Acura Vigor GS”
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"Tortilla Curtain" by T.C. Boyle. (2021, Sep 03). Retrieved June 24, 2022, from