The Tortilla Curtain By T.C. Boyle

The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle, is the most prevalent themes in this contemporary classic. While the American Dream may seem ideal, nothing is ever as fulfilling as it is anticipated.

In The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle, the realization that life is perpetually unfair and disappointing is the common thread that connects an illegal immigrant couple named Cándido and América Rincón and an upscale, yuppie couple named Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher. Both couples have their own version of the American Dream, and both find their dreams to be merely illusions, even though one couple has reached its goals and the other is still fantasizing about them.

Despite being beaten by her husband, as well as being forced to endure numerous equally trying hardships, América holds on tight to her version of the American Dream, which in her eyes consists of an apartment of their own with running water. She repeatedly prays for her dream to reach fruition, by chanting the hopeful phrase: "If we could only get there, we'll be all right,"

Delaney, on the other hand, has a starring role in his own American Dream, yet he is disenchanted upon his realization that his manner of living is not as fulfilling as he had once anticipated it to be. He feels guilty for his good fortune, which prevents him from enjoying his affluent lifestyle to its fullest extent. However it is interesting to note that if Delaney's version of the American Dream had been as meager as América's, he would not only have reached his goals, but would have far surpassed them. Conversely, had América's goals been as lofty as Delaney's, she would have been eternally disheartened and grown continually more bitter as her dreams for the future slipped further and further out of reach.

Regarding symbolism in The Tortilla Curtain, the type of house a person lives in is used as the defining factor of whether or not one has achieved "The American Dream". The house in the suburbs with the white picket fence acts a symbol of success, both in the novel and in real life. This of course, is representative of the materialism of which the author obviously disapproves.

The Mossbachers, for example, are locked inside a gray and dull existence until a cruel twist of fate forces them to view their surroundings in a different light. The Rincóns' equally empty lifestyle is housed within analogous surroundings until both exterior forces and internal revelations cause them to finally see the American Dream for what it really is; an illusion. The confines of both couples' houses represent the suffocation human beings feel when their lives no longer hold any surprises or enjoyment, and both portray the American dream as essentially groundless propaganda. The images of walls and gates that are prevalent throughout the book represent the concepts of blocking people out, and locking people in. This inspires the reader to question the problems associated with immigration.

The novel very similarly mirrors the movie Grand Canyon. Just as the yuppie character (Delaney) has a life-altering car accident with the indigent character of Cándido in the novel, Kevin Kline plays a Yuppie in Grand Canyon who gets involved in Danny Glover's "ghetto world" after the tow-truck driver saves his skin. Both works address issues of racism, materialism, hypocrisy and disillusionment in an insightful, disturbing and yet still entertaining manner. However the true distinction lies not so much in the outcomes of these character's lives but in the threads of their moral fiber, or more specifically, how tightly those threads are woven together.

Both Grand Canyon and The Tortilla Curtain contain clever dialogue, complex symbolism and a negative view of the American Dream. While all of the characters in each have endured the true depths of turmoil, the message portrayed in both the book and the movie goes far deeper than an examination of human suffering. Whether achieving the American Dream is a blessing or a curse is a question we all must contemplate at some point in our lives. It is how we handle life after we get our answers that makes the real difference in our relationships, and defines our own true character.

T.C. Boyle discloses information about the two couples by alternating back and forth between their divergent yet similar lifestyles. Cándido's crippling injury as a result of being hit by Delaney's car, forces him to become increasingly desperate in his attempts to take care of his family and achieve the American Dream. At the same time, Delaney's run in with Cándido causes him to desperately search for whatever it is that will identify his purpose in life other than taking care of his family financially.

The Mossbachers represent what the Rincons are trying to achieve, yet both are unsatisfied with their current state of being. The theme is rooted in the cultural, social, and economic differences between the Mossbachers and the Rincons, and the back and forth style of disclosure allows the reader to become "a fly on the wall" in the lives of both couples equally. Delaney Mossbacher's wife, real estate agent Kyra is an important character in the novel in that her drive to succeed in business is also representative of the materialism that the author abhors. America Rincon is also an integral part of the novel in that she is the "punching bag" on which Candido takes out all of his frustrations over the unfairness of life.

Though the premise of the American Dream in this novel is based on fantasy, the realities that are addressed within the context each are relatively true to life. Both couples have placed so much stock in the American Dream, that they are wholly unprepared when their ideals eventually "crash".

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