T. Coraghessan Boyle’s book the Tortilla Curtain begins with a quote from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, “They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable.” This section taking from Steinbeck’s work sets the tone for Boyle’s novel about two different families and their separate lives in Southern California. Through Boyle’s novel he shows the real trials and tribulations facing immigrants and residents alike in the state of California.
Let us begin with a brief summary of the novel itself. The Tortilla Curtain revolves around two families. One, a family of illegal immigrants, Canidido and 17 year old wife America Rincon, the other a well off California couple, Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher. The two families are shown in the book as from two completely opposite lives. The Mossbacher’s are a wealthy family who lives in their large house, with their swimming pool overlooking Topanga Canyon. The Rincon’s on the other hand are a poor couple with no home and little to no food who keep their residence in the bottom of Topanga Canyon. When first looking at these two families, one may wonder how a book could revolve around two such different families. This question is answered as soon as the first page is turned.
Right from the beginning of the book the encounters begin between the two families. On Delaney’s way to recycle some of his trash he strikes Canidido with his Acura. From the start of the novel Boyle shows how Delaney thinks of Canidido and his people as he states, “To his shame Delaney’s first thought was for his car (was it marred, scratched, dented?), and then for his insurance rates (what was this going to do to his good-driver discount?), and finally, belatedly, for the victim”. Boyle goes on to discuss the way that no one stopped, bringing Delaney to question how it could be that no one saw the accident. When the contact is made between Delaney and Canidido there is no way for either man to communicate with the other. Finally, after the attempt at communicating fails Canidido asks for “Monee” from Delaney, who gives him twenty dollars in return. At this early stage in the novel the reader gets the impression of how Delaney feels about Canidido and the worth of his life. As Delaney tells Kyra of the accident she becomes upset that he did not call the insurance or their lawyer, in reply Delaney replies “ ‘I told you—he was Mexican’ ”.