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The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream – Characters, Summary & Analysis

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Updated: Nov 13th, 2019

Introduction

The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream is a book by Thomas Coraghessan Boyle about two families from different cultural and social backgrounds but living in the same community in the United States. The story takes place is Los Angeles, California. The wealthy family represents the legal natives, while the poor one represents the illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Though one might assume that the two families have nothing in common in their cultural beliefs, the author can bring out some cultural similarities between the two. This essay will, therefore, compare and contrast the cultural differences between the two families highlighted by T.Boyle in his book.

Summary of The Tortilla Curtain

Boyle introduces Delaney Mossbacher portraying him as a wealthy American who resides in California. He has hit a man with his car who is later introduced as Candido Rincon. Delaney, who represents the wealthy class, describes Rincon as having ‘red-flecked eyes and rotten teeth’ and goes on to admit that his utmost worry is the damage caused to his car (Boyle 23). He is relieved when he finds out that Candido is still alive though in an awful condition.

The two do not seem to understand each other at first as both speak different languages. However, Candido can pick out the offer by Delaney to take him to the hospital, which he adamantly declines. All he wants is money to which Delaney hands him a twenty-dollar bill, and they each go their own way (Boyle 30).

The author highlights the struggles of Candido after the accident. He is unable to feed his family due to the injuries incurred. He cannot get a job anymore at the local work exchange, where he temporarily worked before the crash. Delaney, on the other hand, is also experiencing problems.

A coyote has killed one of his treasured pet dogs, and he is not taking the matter lightly. Besides, the community wall has just been brought down by a fire caused by Candido.

Cultural Similarities Depicted

Racism is one of the cultural similarities prevalent in the Tortilla Curtain.. Analysis shows that the theme is present in all of the chapters in the novel and in most instances, brought out by the author. Delaney portrays his hatred against the Mexicans whom he views as illegal immigrants. For him, they are people from a different class, and this is evident when he tells his lawyer that Candido would not likely sue him as he had given him “$ 20 blood money” and that “He’s a Mexican” (Boyle 36).

The fact that he is just a Mexican console his guilty conscience of subjecting him to so much pain when he hit him with his car. Likewise, America comes into contact with Mary on her first day at work, and she describes her as “dirty” and “poverty-stricken”. However, America argues that it is not fair for Mary to be searching for a similar job as she was an American.

The two scenarios draw a similar conclusion based on racial prejudice. Delaney’s character of viewing people outside his social class as not being worth any attention correlates to the idea of America’s belief that anyone who is not an illegal immigrant is rich and capable of fending themselves without having to struggle.

The other cultural similarity brought out is the height of problems experienced by the two couples. Candido is depressed since he is on the border of poverty. He can no longer cater for his family’s needs and is forced to go to the street to look for food. Similarly, Delaney is also depressed as a coyote has just killed his dog. Though the level of problems seems to differ, each person is bothered and distressed by the tragedy.

Cultural Differences Depicted

The cultural difference between the two families is introduced by the author as a theme describing the role of gender in the community. Both families live a different lifestyle in the same community. They both view and interpret the role of women in society differently.

When America decides to take up a job to help bring food to the table, Candido feels ashamed and threatened by her action. He does not seem to take it kindly that a woman should be the one feeding her family while the man is present. On the contrary, Delaney does not seem to be bothered by the fact that his wife Kyra, a real agent, is the breadwinner of the family.

The cultural difference can be attributed to the level of education that each Tortilla Curtain’s character possesses and the different social classes. Delaney appears to have education, and he even writes in the local nature magazine as opposed to Candido, who has been described as an illegal immigrant “trying to live the American dream” (Boyle 42).

On the other hand, Candido is depicted as living on the edge and struggling to make ends meet while Delaney hails from the middle-class clan in California. These two opposing characters view the culture of allowing women to work for them differently.

The other cultural difference shown in The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream is their cultural beliefs regarding luck. Both seem to interpret their lives differently. The Rincons seem to be more superstitious, attributing it to their unluckiness.

They blame nature for giving them bad luck in their life. They believe that their life is the way it is because they are immigrants and not Americans. This is contrary to the Mossbacher’s family, who instead blames other people for their downfall. Delaney, for example, blames the Mexicans for littering the city and making his life unbearable.

Conclusion

Contrasting and comparing cultural differences can be challenging but exciting if the reader understands the concept of the book. The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream discusses the role of the rich versus the poor in an intelligent manner. The poor are the immigrants who are from a different social class from the natives.

They both have a culture that they believe in, but their beliefs are influenced by the social classes that they are both in (Ainslie 23). T. Coraghessan Boyle can bring out these cultural differences and similarities in both families brilliantly. In summary, Tortilla Curtain is a book worth reading.

Works Cited

Ainslie, Ricardo. “Social Class and its Reproduction in immigrants’ Construction of Self.” Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. 2009: 213-224. Print.

Boyle, Coraghessan T. . New York: Viking Press, 1995. Print.

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IvyPanda. "The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream - Characters, Summary & Analysis." November 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-and-contrast-on-class-in-the-tortilla-curtain/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream - Characters, Summary & Analysis." November 13, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-and-contrast-on-class-in-the-tortilla-curtain/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Tortilla Curtain: American Dream - Characters, Summary & Analysis'. 13 November.

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