Analysis of Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle establishes the general setting of “Tortilla Curtain” by
giving detailed information on the place and providing 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
on a road near the Topanga Creek (cf. p. 12) in a suburban area around
Los Angeles, California. Throughout the novel Boyle uses original
sites around Los Angeles in the plot, which makes the novel realistic.
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 1982. This assumption is supported
by a major topic of the novel: Mexican immigration, which has
developed decisively after 1970. 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
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 are a result of the change of
perspective in each chapter, showing two different views on the same
setting in an alternating pattern.
The changes of perspective also have an effect on the 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, and yet they cannot differ more.
The differences in perception of the surrounding can be seen in a
major leitmotif of the novel: cars and traffic. For the Americans cars
are not only convenient tools for transportation but also symbols for
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
Kyra’s car even provides protection against José Navidad and his
friend (cf. p. 170), but América is exposed defencelessly to them (cf.
p. 147). For América and Cándido cars are threatening (cf. p. 24) and
yet they are one of their few hopes to get work (cf. p. 90). For them
cars also symbolise the unattainable. The American families depicted
in the novel have at least one car; their houses are not especially
mentioned, because they allegorise the standard. América and Cándido
do not even dream of a car, for they do not even have a proper
Delaney Mossbacher in opposition to América and Cándido does not have
material desires. He lives a fulfilled life; he does not...