The Tortilla Curtain
The book “ Tortilla Curtain” was written by T. C. Boyle. It is the book, which describes the conflicts between the Mexican immigrants and United States Citizens.
The novel tells the story of two couples; one belongs to the upper middle class of America, and the other is Mexican. They both want to fulfill their “American Dream”. Maybe they will fulfill their dream but when Delaney Mossbacher car collide with Candido, things are changed. Delaney, who previously considered himself as a liberal humanist turn out to be a racist, and the life is getting more and more difficult for the Mexican couple. The racism reach at its zenith in the end and Delaney try to kill Candido with his gun. At that time, the Catastrophe happens. The Mexican couple saves Delaney, although their baby dies in the landslide.
T. C. Boyle used the name “Tortilla Curtain” as a metaphor, which describe the border between United States and Mexico. The writer also uses this metaphor to show the differences, conflicts and gulf between United States Citizens and illegal immigrants from Mexico.
This story starts from the area of Topanga Canyon, which is a well-known area around Los Angeles. California is the State with high number of illegal immigrants from Mexico. There are usually two types of homes in Topanga Canyon, Prairie and Bungalow. They both are Spanish Mission style homes.
This is actually a book about the conflict between United States Citizens and illegal immigrants from Mexico. In order to understand the theme of the book it is better to discuss the background of the conflict in detail.
Due to several reasons like unequal opportunities, political instability, unequal distribution of wealth, high demand of Mexican labor in American markets, and cheapness of Mexican labor compelled Mexican people to start migrating into the United States of America (Huntington). These migrations started in 1900 and Mexican people started coming to United States in bulk quantities. It has been estimated that during the first three decades of twentieth century more than 1 million Mexican immigrants settled into the United States. This number of Mexican immigrants continuously increasing since then and until 1990 more than 2.5 million legal and illegal immigrants had settled into the United States (Meier and Ribera). US census of 2000 revealed that there was 281, 421, 906 Mexicans lived in United States.
Due to their particular reasons and job requirements, Mexicans lived mostly in the Southwest of the United States and in the Southern California. The concentration of Latino population is increasing continuously (Yeo). For example, according to the census of 1980, it became 17% of total population of Weld County and 5.9% of Larimer County and according to the census of 2000 it has increased to 20.9% of population of Weld County and 6.6% of Larimer County. Thus it can be said that the population concentration of Latinos are mostly in those areas of United States, which were the part of Mexico in the past. This includes the areas of Texas and Southern California, Los Angles, El Paso etc.
Mexicans after World War II had faced many problems. They became the victims of ethnic discrimination of American society. They had been paid lower salaries and with less facilities. They had to pay for their transportation and none of the fringe benefit had been given to them. They had also faced discrimination in the areas of housing and urban development from realtors and landing institutions.
The pressure from the public compelled the government of United States to expel almost 3.8 million Mexicans into Mexico during the period of 1952 to 1958 in the Operation Wetback program.
United States had changed its immigration policy towards Mexico, and more harsh rules are applied on Mexico. It has been noticed that this policy of United States has seized approximately 120,000 Mexican immigrants to enter into the United States every year, but still the number of Mexicans in United States increases day by day. The census of 2000 showed that it is the largest minority of United States.
In this very well written Novel, T.C. Boyle has shown his skills with his pen, he used vivid characters, which mingled with the interesting plot of the novel makes this book an absolute page-turner. This book depicted the conflict and clash of two cultures, which are entirely different from each other.
It is the book about two couples who lived in close proximity in Southern California but still they are far apart as far as living standards and culture is concerned. The Author very skillfully build the story around these characters, they have intersected with each other at different points and from then on the conflict and difference between two cultures and a shade of racism looks evident in the book.
Although the book tells the story of two couples but it actually tells the difference and ethnic discrimination, Mexican immigrants have to face in United States.
T. C Boyle has used different symbols to describe different things. For example, he used the type of house, a person lives, in to describe whether he or she achieved his or her “American Dream” or not. He also uses house as the symbol of materialistic success. A house in the shrubs with white picket fence is the symbol of success and determines that the person lives in has achieved his American dream.
The “American Dream” is also symbolized as an illusion and a baseless propaganda. The Author also used walls and gates in this novel to portray the chains and cells that have locked people inside them and as chains, which blocked the way of people to come in.
He also used different houses as symbols of suffocation which people feel whose lives lack any enjoyment or surprises.
The theme of this book is rooted in the ethnic and cultural differences between the United States Citizens and Mexican immigrants (Conover). Culture consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, work of arts, rituals, ceremonies and so on. The existence and use of culture depends upon ability possessed by men alone. This ability has been called variously the capacity for rational or abstract thought.
It has been noted that Millions of Mexicans, settled in United States brought their own cultural heritage and values in the United States and they are still living as a separate entity in the United States. The family structure has a prime importance in Mexican culture. Usually a household centered on a nucleus of a family but sometimes some offshoots are also there. Although many households live in a nuclear family structure but they are always ready to help other family members and friends in the hour of need. The values and norms of Mexican Americans was comprised of their religion, which is Catholic, and their native traditions and folklore (Gamio, 1971). In the rituals and religious celebrations all the family, friends, neighbors and close relatives gather together to celebrate, to eat together and to have fun. Thus the lives, values, norms, traditions and culture of Mexican Americans were based on their religion and so church was the main part of their lives.
Although the premise of American Dream is nothing but an illusion but the realities of life in this context was true and masterly addressed by the Author T. C. Boyle. It has been presented in this novel that people of every culture believed so much in the baseless propaganda of American Dream, that when their ideals crash, they are totally unprepared for the realities of life.
This book is very to the Novel “Grapes of Wrath” in style. In Grapes of Wrath also the writer depicted the lives of ordinary people, strive their utmost to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation. This novel is the portrait of conflicts between the powerful and the powerless, the fierce reaction of a man against the injustice and the social strength of a woman.
The Novel, Tortilla Curtain is actually a protest against the ill treatment of the migrants in California. The writer’s main point in this novel is that the workers must also reform their views if there is to be any real change. The writer stresses on the idea that the humanity must adapt to the changing conditions, no matter what these conditions are.
Both the novels Tortilla Curtain and Grapes of Wrath addressed the issues of Racism, ethnic discrimination, materialism, and hypocrisy in an entertaining manner. T. C. Boyle has used a vivid and complex style to describe the negativity of American Dream (Sneering at the Class Divide).
Boyle has used two approaches in the book Tortilla Curtain, one is structural and the other is ideological. Structurally, the style needs that the author is either sympathetic to all characters or attacks them with equal ferocity. But Boyle used the technique to satirize some characters and canonized others. This imbalance of style depicts that bad people can’t be that bad and good people can’t be that good and so characters sympathies lies with the wrong characters.
Ideologically, the Author presented one single sided view of Mexican immigrants and which cannot be true in every case.
There are four important characters in this book:
- Delaney Mossbacher
Delaney Mossbacher is the wealthy American who lived with his wife and Son in wealthy suburbs of Los Angeles. In the beginning, the character is a normal person whose life revolves around his family, his business and surroundings. He calls himself a liberal humanist and defends illegal immigrants from Mexico. He said to his friend, “Immigrants are the live-blood of this country – we’re a nation of immigrants” (Boyle, P.101).
But after the accident his life has changed entirely. He turned out to be a racist attitude. The novel depicts two entire different personalities of Delaney. Under normal circumstances he behaved like a liberal humanist but when he gets angry he became a racist. In the end only racist Delaney exists who get mad with the Mexicans and tried to kill Candido but landslide has taken him and Candido’s baby. But the Mexican couple has saved them.
Kyra was the wife of Delaney. Her views, although same as Delaney views, but differs with his view a lot in a manner. T.C. Boyle has described her character as, “She didn't see things the way Delaney did - he was from the East, he didn't understand, he hadn't lived with it all his life" (p.158).
Kyra is a fighter in nature and she cannot tolerate anything in her way. The accident and the other chain events related to the accident do not change her character at all. Her life revolves around her son and her pets.
Overall Kyra was not as much affected by accidents and the other chain events as Delaney. That is why her personality and character has not changed as much as Delaney.
Candido, the Mexican immigrant has also affected by the accident both physically and psychologically. The character of Candido depicted a personality with a love and greed to money. He needs a lot of money to fulfill his American Dream and to solve all his and her wife’s problems.
The accident hurt him physically and he cannot be able to go for work and have to live a life of a housewife, which ultimately affected him psychologically. Candido is a person who believes in justice but the events happened after the accident has made it very difficult for him to believe in justice.
The Author portrayed the character of Candido as a true Mexican who believed that things would change when God wants to change them.
America is the second wife of Candido and the sister of his first wife. She also shared the same American Dream with Candido but the accident has changed everything. To fulfill her dream she wants to work but Candido’s chauvinism did not permit her to do so. “Nobody can tell me I can‘t feed my own wife-" (P. 28). She started working after the accident but the things and her personality have changed when a Mexican has raped her. This event has changed her view from optimistic to pessimistic. This has also affected her relationship with Candido. She blamed him for all that happened to her. “ And who had deprived her of all this? Cándido. And she hated him for it. She couldn‘t help herself" (P.273).
But the birth of her baby has again changed her relationship with her husband and they both love each other again. But she does not want to live there and wanted to go home.
In the end it can be said that this is a good book, which reveals the problems of illegal immigrants and clash between two cultures.