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Published: 09-11-2019

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Satire in Tortilla Curtain

The problem of immigration and American attitudes towards it are the object of satire in T.C Boyle’s novel ‘Tortilla Curtain’. Boyle utilizes sarcasm to attack what he sees as the self-obsessed nature of middle-class America and their naïve view of the world. He laments the extent to which the United States appears out of touch with issues in the rest of the planet. The author’s use of irony depicts a breakdown of human society fuelled by fear and jealous materialism, but the continuing interdependence of human beings is also portrayed all through the novel.

The self-absorbed nature of modern day American society is depicted through Boyle’s use of sarcasm. The character Celaney, who epitomises liberal middle-America, magnifies his own difficulties out of proportion. This can be observed in the tone of disbelief when Delaney, a “liberal humanist with… a freshly waxed Japanese car…” (p1) hits a Mexican. The tone turns to a single annoyance as he asks: “Why did this have to happen to him?” (p6). Boyle’s sarcastic tone when describing Delanye’s troubles clearly shows how Delaney bemoans his personal difficulties whilst ignoring that of the Mexican.

‘Tortilla Curtain’ depicts American society as desiring a safe view of the globe. On many occasions in the novel, the liberal middle-class residents of Arroyo Blanco steer clear of addressing complex social troubles, as can be noticed in Delaney’s desperate enthusiasm for clear-cut troubles and morality: “This was what mattered. Principle… an issue as clear-cut as the on/off switch…” (p152). The simplicity of this view reflects Boyle’s belief that the world is really extremely complicated. Also suggested is the lack of moral direction that lies behind a need to see the planet in simple terms. This disconnection with reality can also be noticed in Boyle’s attack on the ‘highbrow’ interests of the affluent.

By means of ironic symbolism, Boyle denounces the affluent as hypocritical and out of touch in their help of ‘liberal’ views. An instance of this can be seen in the problem of the coyote, which symbolises environmental conservation, but is also allegorical of Mexican immigrants. It is ironic when Delaney, who progressively becomes anti-immigration, declares: “The coyote is not to blame… he is only attempting … to make a living… “ (p214). Astonishing to the reader is the way Delaney sympathises with the wild coyote but can not do the identical with his fellow man.

Satirical attacks of other liberal interests can also be seen in Delaney’s encounter with Candido. Confronted with the badly-injured Candido, Delaney is helpless. He cannot even communicate as Candido is speaking Spanish, to which Delaney’s “… four years of high college French…” give him “…little access.” (p8) The irony that American schools would teach French, broadly regarded the language of sophistication, but not Spanish is not wasted on Boyle who utilizes it to reflect America’s lack of interest in Mexico and its problems. This satirisation of the liberal middle-class can be seen to be component of Boyle’s commentary on trends in modern society and the persistence of cultural barriers and prejudices.

The novel expresses Boyle’s concern at the increasing disconnectedness and fragmentation of neighborhood in modern society. The affluent residents of Arroyo Blanco are usually wary of society as a outcome of jealously guarding their wealth. The irony of their fears and actions can be observed when Delaney instructs the workmen to shut the gate: “we wouldn’t want any of the neighbourhood kids wandering in…” (p243). Even as the wall is constructed to make the Arroyo Blanco neighborhood safer, the apranoia of the residents is undiminished they turn on each and every other, as implied above. This trend in society is diagnosed by Boyle to be element of a shift towards materialism.

‘The Tortilla Curtain’ promotes the view that societal breakdown is due to growing materialism. This can be noticed in Boyle’s parody of the community organisation: “Arroyo Blanco Home Association”. This is a meeting exactly where no-1 appears to know anyone else. Additionally, consumeristic tendencies can be seen in the name: the residents are not united by means of friendship but by way of the ownership of house.

Despite the problems the novel highlights, Boyle’s use of satire also reminds readers of humanity’s interdependence. Amidst all the anti-Mexican sentiment perpetuated by Arroyo Blanco residents, Boyle notes that Candido “… go work once… hauling rock for a wall some lady was developing about her house.” (p181) The statement shows, heavy with irony, that immigrants have a sensible and valuable location in society. In addition the ending of the novel depicts Candido saving Delaney from drowning. When taken in mixture, these passages market the author’s view that human beings are dependent on each and every other, virtually and emotionally and that this dependence transcends each race and class.

‘The Tortilla Curtain’ as a satire is scathing in its attack on modern American middle-class values which Boyle sees as individualistic, puerile and ‘avant-garde’. Readers look on with concern at the novel’s portrayal of the contemporary world’s ‘broken society’ fragmented by way of pursuit of material wealth and the fear of losing it. This dystopian vision is even so tempered by the depiction of human interdependency which Boyle believes will overcome the social and financial divides of the present. By satirizing of the situation of United States immigration Boyle has identified numerous modern societal issues. His ridicule of the conflict amongst rich and poor, illegal and citizen is applicable not only to United States’ society but to Western society in basic.
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