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TitleTortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
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Page 1

Tortilla Curtain
By T.C. Boyle

The lives of two different couples--wealthy Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra
Mossbacher, and Cándido and América Rincóns, a pair of Mexican illegals--suddenly
collide, in a story that unfolds from the shifting viewpoints of the various characters.

T. Coraghessan Boyle was born in 1948 and grew up in Peekskill, New York. He is a
graduate of the State University of New York at Potsdam, and received his doctorate in
nineteenth-century English literature from the University of Iowa in 1977. Since 1977,
Boyle has taught creative writing at the University of Southern California. While in
college, Boyle exchanged his middle name, John, for the unusual Coraghessan, the name
of one of his Irish ancestors.

Boyle is the author of Descent of Man (1979), Water Music (1982), Budding Prospects
(1984), Greasy Lake (1985), World's End (1987, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for
fiction), If the River Was Whiskey (1989), East Is East (1990), The Road to Wellville
(1993), which was made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins, and Without a Hero
(1994). His work has appeared in major American magazines, including The New
Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Monthly. Boyle lives with
his wife, Karen, and their three children near Santa Barbara, California, in a house
designed in 1909 by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.�

Page 2

1. At the beginning of the story, Delaney accidentally hits Cándido with his car. "For a
long moment, they stood there, examining each other, unwitting perpetrator and
unwitting victim." How does this encounter set the tone for the events that follow? Does
it come full circle in the final scene?

2. The novel is forged on the cultural, social, and financial differences between the
Mossbachers and the Rincóns. It alternates between the two couples' points of view,
allowing the reader to enter the lives of both families. How does this technique propel the
story? Do you feel that you got to know each of the couples equally well? Was the author
fair in his portrayal of each of the couples? Is he too harsh in his portrayal of the
Mossbachers, as one reviewer suggested?

3. Cándido and América crossed the border in search of a better life for themselves and
their unborn child. They do not ask for much and are willing to work hard, yet they are
constantly met with resistance and failure. There are numerous references to Cándido bad
luck. Is he unlucky? Is there anything he could have done to have changed his luck?
What does this story say about the American dream?

4. The symbol of the coyote appears throughout the novel and represents illegal Mexican
immigrants. In his nature column, Delaney writes, "The coyote is not to blame--he is only
trying to survive, to make a living, to take advantage of the opportunities available to
him." He concludes the same column by writing, "The coyotes keep coming, breeding up
to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry
and unstoppable." How do these passages reflect Delaney's mixed feelings about illegal
immigrants? Is he a hypocrite? As the novel progresses, Delaney's humanistic beliefs
give way to racism and resentment, and he directs his rage at all illegal immigrants onto
Cándido. When confronted with evidence that Cándido is not the vandal at Arroyo
Blanco, he destroys it. Why does Delaney need to believe that the vandal is Cándido?
How does Delaney evolve from being a "liberal humanist" to a racist?

5. Boundaries--both real and imagined--play a large role in the novel, especially the front
gate at Arroyo Blanco Estates. In what other instances do boundaries appear and what do
they represent? What roles do the different characters play in constructing these

6. In a recent interview Boyle stated, "If it's satire, it has to bite somebody, has to have
teeth in it, otherwise it's useless." How does satire affect The Tortilla Curtain and the
telling of the story? Is it a successful technique?

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