The Representation of the American Dream in T. C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1971 Words
Date:  2022-05-17

Does T. C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain accurately represent the American Dream? The Tortilla Curtain is a novel by T. C. Boyle in 1995 by Viking Press. The novel addresses the core issues affecting the immigrants in the United States that vary from xenophobia, poverty to illegal immigration. The masterpiece describes the illegal immigration of Rincon and his teenage wife America from Mexico to the outskirts of Los Angeles with dreams of making it in life by pursuing the American Dream. Through the activities of this couple, the author articulately describes the challenges immigrants face in the United States in an effort to attain better living conditions. The author, Thomas Coraghessan Boyle, has lived extensively in the state of California which has a large number of immigrants from Mexico. This has enabled him to vividly describe the challenges they face in an effort to assimilate and establish themselves in the United States. Throughout this research paper, we will analyze the plight of the immigrants in the United States as depicted in The Tortilla Curtain and determine the differences between the hopes and the desires of the immigrants and the natives as they pursue the American Dream.

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The Tortilla Curtain is centered on two couple who are based in a middle-class neighborhood in the Topanga area near Los Angeles. The Mossbachers are a middle-class family that has recently moved into a gated community in the area while the Rincons are homeless immigrants who have camped in the Topanga Canyon. The paths of these couples meet when Delaney Mossbacher hits Candido Rincon with his car when driven in the roads near the neighborhood. Both men are reluctant to call the police and they choose not to due to various reasons. Delaney does not want to destroy his perfect driving record while Candido fears arrest and deportation for being in the United States illegally. Candido's fear of deportation is so great that he is unwilling to even see a doctor. Boyle writes, "He didn't need a doctor. He didn't need to put himself in their hands-his bones would knit, his flesh would heal. What would he say to them? How would he pay? And then when they were done with him, the man fromLa Migra -the Immigration-would be standing there with his twenty questions and his clipboard. No, he didn't need a doctor." Delaney then gives Candido $20 as some form of compensation and from that period, the lives of these two couples constantly influence each other.

The American Dream envisions the provision of adequate opportunities for the residents of the United States to prosper economically and socially. The American dream has been the basis of immigration into the United States as the immigrants seek opportunities to improve their living conditions in a country that is known for its opportunities for upward social mobility for an individual as well as their children despite their conditions for their birth. Through the analysis of The Tortilla Curtain in this research paper, we will consider the differences between the opportunities available for the middle-class and those available for immigrants who arrive in the United States with barely anything such as the illegal immigrants. With the American Dream, any individual can exponentially improve his living condition as long as they are willing to work hard.

Under the American, Dream success is usually inevitable for individuals who are willing to work hard. However, the Tortilla Curtain demonstrates a wide rift between the reward for the labor of the immigrants and that of the natives. Despite the immigrants working in hard jobs for long hours they earn less and cannot afford decent livelihoods. Candido and America work very hard in low-level jobs yet they cannot afford decent housing and have to live in camps where they are not protected from adverse weather conditions. Despite Delaney Mossbacher working in a less demanding field as a nature reporter where he hikes and writes environmental articles, it is evident that he makes much more money than the Rincons and he and his family can afford to live in an exclusive gated community. However, it is evident that both families have aspirations of improving their livelihoods. The movement of the Mossbachers to the gated community in Topanga was a form of self-improvement whereby the family wanted to enjoy the nature. Candido and America hope to improve their lives by immigrating to America and finding employment which has the ability to enable them to improve their standard of living.

The American Dream is based on a society which does not possess hierarchical or aristocratic forms which have been utilized in other parts of the world to inhibit the ambitions of individuals. In aristocratic society, the greatest level of life in which an individual could attain was determined by the social hierarchy in which the individual could attain. In America, there were no hierarchies and ambitious individual who were hardworking could attain any level of life they desired both economically and socially. However, in the Tortilla Curtain, it is evident that there is a hierarchical level of living which hinders some group of life from attaining their dreams. The Rincons who are immigrants from Mexico seem to belong to the lowest hierarchy and the society does not avail them of an opportunity to make a living by working in a meaningful employment. They have to depend on the local work exchange for temporary minimum-wage jobs in order to earn a living. However, in the work exchange, the only available jobs are low-wages and Candido and America cannot make adequate money to afford a decent life. Meanwhile, the natives, who are represented by the Mossbachers can afford a luxurious life without depending on the labor exchange centers. Delaney works part-time as a writer yet he can afford to live in a gated neighborhood. His wife, Kyra, is a successful real estate agent where she specializes in the sale of luxurious properties. It seems that the society is more accommodative of the native white Americans and it provides ample opportunity for them to make a decent earning compared to immigrants who are exclusively tied to the lower tier of the society.

As the American Dream rooted in the Declaration of Independence in which it guarantees the equality of men, all individuals in the United States have right to liberty. However, as seen in the Tortilla Curtain, there are oppressive restrictions that vividly affect the lives of immigrants in the US in contrast with the American Dream. Candido and America are treated as second-class citizens and restrictions are put in the society to hinder their capability to move freely along the nation as well as to earn a prudent living. The society has made it difficult for immigrants, especially the Hispanics, to live decently as they are targets of xenophobia and hate crimes. It is so severe that even purchasing from stores by these immigrants seems suspicious to the traders. According to Boyle, "She'd laid him here on the blanket and he'd given her the crumpled bill he'd earned in the hardest way any man could imagine, in the way that would kill him, and she'd gone up the hill to the near store, the one run by the suspicious Chinamen or Koreans or whatever they were, and she'd bought a stew bone with a ragged collar of beef on it, a big plastic bottle of aspirin, rubbing alcohol, a can ofgabacho-colored Band-Aids and, best of all, a pint of brandy, E & J, to deaden the pain and keep the dreams at bay." What is more surprising is that even the Chinese or Koreans who are also victims of xenophobia also detest the Mexican immigrants. The Mossbachers do not experience such hate and are treated courteously as shown when they visit Kenny Grissom at the auto shop where he had bought his car for the repairs after hitting Candido. The hate against Mexican immigrants is so high that Kyra believes that their rapid increase in Topanga will decrease the property values in the area.

The migrants in the United States cannot attain the American Dream as they are not protected by the law enforcement agencies as other Americans are. Candido chooses not to involve the police after he was hit by Delaney's car as he feared victimization, arrest, and deportation by the immigration officials. Despite the equality of all individuals in the country, the immigrants are treated as lesser human being by enforcement agencies and risk deportation even when they are the victims of crimes. This has made the migrants more fearful of the law enforcement agencies. When America is raped, the thought of reporting the sexual assaults do not even cross her mind due to the imminent deportation she faces if she if she contacts the police. Throughout the Tortilla Curtain, there are several instances where immigrants have had to run away from law enforcement agencies in an effort to avoid arrest and deportation. The failure of the law enforcement agencies to protect the immigrants has also prevented the law immigrants from prospering. When Candido pools his wages with other immigrants to buy a truck, they had to leave it behind after they were approached by the police. According to Boyle, "...when the state police cruiser nosed in behind them on the shoulder of the road. The effect was to send everybody scrambling up the bank and into the woods in full flight, except for Hilario, who was still bent over the motor the last time Candido laid eyes on him." It seems that the immigrants are willing to evade the law enforcement agencies at any cost even if it means losing their hard-earned property.

Through the Tortilla Curtain, the two couple faces difference challenges despite their varying inequalities based on their financial situations, it is evident that both do not attain prosperity and success that is the basis of the American Dream. The Mossbachers have attained success and prosperity economically but their level of satisfaction of the life in their neighborhood has been dismal. Delaney seems unsatisfied with the encroachment of the Mexican immigrants into their neighborhood and it is evident that he feels that the family, their property and even their environment is not safe due to the influx of the immigrants into the community. The Mossbachers blame their plight on the increasing number of immigrants as Delaney blames them for the death of their pets, the theft of their care as well as the reduction in property value in the area that could to reduction earnings of Kyra. The challenges faced by Rincons were albeit different compared to Mossbachers. However, they also prevented Candido and America from attaining prosperity in the United States. Xenophobia, hate crimes and harassment by law enforcement agencies contributed immensely to the inability of Candido and America to achieve the American Dream.


From The Tortilla Curtain, it is evident that the American Dream is still an illusion to millions of American despite their various economic statuses. The native white Americans are depicted as rich but are usually uneasy due to the influx of immigrants into the country. The natives feel that the immigrants are moving into their country to compete with them in making use of the available resources and opportunities and attribute the poverty exhibited by the immigrants to deviant behavior. For example, when Delaney's car is stolen during a hike, he is certain that the vehicle was stolen by Mexican immigrants who are roaming in Topanga. It is this stereotyping that result in the gathering of the homeowners in an effort to approve a wall that would keep the immigrants and their deviant behaviors out of the gated community. As Boyle writers, the homeowners 'want to wall the whole place in like a medieval city or something-". The main aim of this controversial wall is to keep crimes such...

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The Representation of the American Dream in T. C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain. (2022, May 17). Retrieved from

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