T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain is an environmental novel that displays the lives of two very different married couples and their day to day struggles. Kyra and Delaney are a very self obsessed couple. They constantly obsess about being safe from the Mexicans that lurk in their neighborhood. Kyra and Delaney have experienced many abuses to their neighborhood including graffiti by the accused Mexicans as well as verbal abuse. The many men that represent the Mexicans in this novel are all illegal immigrants that are forced to live off the land because of their inability to make enough money. Kyra and Delaney are also faced with many of nature’s obstacles including the coyotes who attacked and murder both of their dogs. Their experiences lead them to become obsessed with their own safety.
This is ironic when America and Candido’s lives are compared to Kyra and Delaney’s. America and Candido are from Tijuana and are forced to live in extreme circumstances out in the wilderness because of their lack of money. They are discriminated against which makes it very difficult for them to find steady work. They live in a shack made of branches and poorly made material out in the woods, in hopes of saving enough money to someday buy an apartment with running water and a bedroom. America and Candido’s struggles make Kyra and Delaney’s struggles look pathetic. They are forced to endure extreme circumstances and budget themselves with little to no money. Not only are they forced to live off scraps of food, but they encounter many different enemies while simply trying to survive off the land in the canyon. One unfortunate encounter they have is one day when America is off at work and Candido is forced to stay in their make shift home because of being hit by Delaney’s car.
Candido hides himself in the bushes while white men storm into his home and destroy all his belongings including tarring up America’s only good dress. Not only are they constantly victims of being discriminated against, whether it is in the grocery store or in their own home but America is also a victim of sexual abuse. While coming home from work one day she was walking down the trail when approached by two strange men. They forced themselves on her, later on the reader learns that this is the cause of her baby’s blindness disability. America being pregnant and being forced to give birth in a shed in someone’s backyard is one of the main points of my argument. She is in danger of causing harm to her body and her baby. In my opinion, this is the most extreme case of a dangerous situation that Candido and America have been placed in. Neither of them are doctors and are unaware of how to properly care for her or the baby in this situation. Luckily thanks to their experience of living in such extreme conditions, Candido is able to pull together anything that he might need to attempt to care for America and their baby. Boyle writes, “It was the moment Candido had been waiting for. He leaned forward with a knife and cut the blue cord that was like a length of a sausage and with a rag dipped in water wiped the mess from the tiny limbs and torso” (T.C Boyle 297). It is very ironic how much more dangerous Candido and America’s lives are yet Kyra and Delaney are the ones obsessed with their safety.
Kyra and Delany come from a very different world then Candido and America do. Kyra and Delaney have a lot of privilege because of their citizenship and material possessions. A reoccurring theme in this novel is racism, represented mostly by Delaney and other white characters. Kyra and Delaney are blind to the abundance of food, clothes, and shelter they are giving access too, making Candido and America’s situation seem even more severe. Candido and America are constantly working, whether it is for money or to preserve what they have of their shelter in the woods. They do not have access to the same kind of luxuries that Kyra and Delaney do because they are not citizens. They are forced to do what it takes to survive, putting them at a huge disadvantage when it comes to trying to find a decent place to live. They have no control when white people come and destroy their home in the woods, and are unable to call for help when Candido is hurt, or America is giving birth in fear of being deported. They are forced to live in the moment taking every day as it comes as apposed to Kyra and Delany who are given the pleasure of being to plan out each day as they desire.
Another ironic part of this novel is that both couples live very close in distance to each other but experience drastically different lives. One major goal that both couples have in common is their wish to be happy and live comfortably, even though their definitions of living comfortably are drastically different. The character Delaney is constantly faced with inner struggles with his fellow white citizens. Although he is racist himself, he does not openly acknowledge this and goes against the popular vote to have the wall build around their houses. Delaney tries to prove himself as a humanist but is unable to step away from the generalizations that other citizens also make about the Mexicans.
This novel has a lot to contribute to our understanding of environmentalism. It is able to clearly paint a picture of two very extremely different environmentalists, and the pros and cons of their way of life. This novel shows how are society is in need of finding a balance between these extreme ways of life and how if we continue to fight amongst ourselves we will be never be able to come together and find ways to help improve our ways of life to benefitting our environment.