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Tortilla Curtain by U.S. author T.C. Boyle Essay

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The American Dream is defined in many ways in both of these works of literature.  What is the American Dream?  It is the idea that with hard work anyone can succeed in this country.  Succeeding is mostly defined in materialistic terms, like having a house in the suburbs, a new car, etc.  The American Dream is also about being able to support a family in a more-than-basic way.  It may also be defined as living a fulfilling life but of course, one needs a little money to do even that.

 In Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, the American Dream is shown as absolutely unattainable to some people, chiefly illegal immigrants, unless they are willing to break the law.  In the movie Crash, the viewer sees examples of people who “make it” as well as people who don’t, and even some people who are in between.  However, in both these pieces, characters must struggle and work hard for even a chance at the American Dream.

  But the question remains, “why is the American Dream attainable for some and not for others?”  Overall, the idea of the American Dream is shown as a myth or illusion for most people.

            The American Dream exists in many ways in this movie.  In Crash, the viewer is shown a successful character like the Latino man named Daniel.  Daniel lives in a small house, but it is his house.  He lives with his wife and daughter.  He works hard every day, and while he will never be rich like Jean, he is able to survive and to sustain his family.  The viewer would not exactly view him as a success story because there probably isn’t much money left over at the end of each month.  However, the viewer recognizes that Daniel has what is truly important in life and is “making it” even thought that might be day by day.

On the other hand, the Persian man who owns the shop is unable to attain the American Dream.  Or rather, he is on his way when the shop is destroyed by vandals.  With the insurance company refusing to pay, he has lost everything.  Due to the fact that he has been ripped off before in America, he does not believe Daniel when he is told to get a new lock.  Therefore, he essentially loses his business.  Both of these characters must struggle through stereotypes and prejudice and racism on a daily basis to even have a chance at the American Dream.

            Now, Jean’s character in Crash shows another side of the American Dream.  She really has the plush lifestyle that most people would think of when defining the American Dream.  She has the beautiful house, the cars, the maid, the manicured lawn, the glitzy clothes and jewelry, etc.  She is clearly unhappy.  All of the material possessions have not made her happier; they have possibly made her miserable.  She has no friends, no one she can really count on.  for most of the movie, she is a hated character, and yet she is someone who lives the American Dream.

The viewer does not know whether the couple has earned all this money or inherited some, but the viewer sees Jean’s character basically doing nothing.  She does not work while Daniel and Farad struggle daily to make a life for their families.  Clearly, Crash says that the dream is not attainable for everyone no matter how hard they work.  Neither one of them is lazy characters at all and still, life is a struggle.  But those who have the “life” want to protect it and protect themselves against those who don’t.

            In Crash, there are those who sort of live the dream outside the boundaries of the law.  The viewer assumes that Ken Ho lives the dream.  he is an immigrant who has “made it” in America.  But how has he done this?  He traffics human beings.

He completely compromises any values that he had in order to make money.   Ludicirs and Anthony sort of live the dream although they always must stay one step ahead of the police in order to keep what they have.  They steal cars which earns them money to buy nice things.  These characters show the American Dream gone awry.  However, there is a reality here as well.  Many people in this country feel that the Dream is unattainable to them any other way than breaking the law.  So, they break the law in order to get the things that others already have.

            Basically the movie Crash shows the viewer situation after situation where people struggle to live the dream and that is exactly what it is for most people, a daily struggle.  To get to the top is hard enough, but to stay there is nearly impossible.  And it isn’t about hard work at all.  being a hard worker guarantees nothing in this life.  It doesn’t guarantee that a person will ever get anywhere financially.  It doesn’t guarantee that someone who hasn’t worked at all won’t take your life away from you suddenly.  It doesn’t even guarantee that a person will have a place to live or money to buy food no matter how hard he/she works.

            This brings us directly to Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, which is yet another name for the border between the United States and Mexico.  In Tortilla Curtain the dichotomy between rich and poor is shown quite clearly.  Kyra Menaker-Mossbader and her husband and son have the American Dream.  They live in an exclusive housing development called Arroyo Blanco Estates and seem to have all the luxuries of life.  below their house, Candido and America Rincon live.  They came to America illegally from Mexico in order to maintain the American Dream.  they find that no matter how hard they work, they simply cannot attain the Dream.  In fact, they cannot gain enough money to live any semblance of a decent life.

            The Rincon’s come to the United States illegally to work for a better life.  The Rincon’s truly believe that in American society “everyone, even the poorest [has] a car, a house, and a TV” (26).  They do not understand that even Americans are poor; that is why America is so upset when she meets Mary at the labor exchange.  If citizens of this country cannot achieve the American Dream, where does that leave her family?  Throughout this book, America will come to believe that her whole idea was noting but an illusion, an illusion that will not be met.

They have already reduced their living standards to the bare minimum and are barely scraping by.  While America is pregnant, she has had to camp out in the open air with no clean water or any sort of sanitation system.  This couple has no health insurance for the birth of their baby, nor do they have prospects in getting a job in order to obtain and maintain this health insurance.  They work as day laborers until they can’t even find work at all.  America is like many others.  She dreams of the United States we typically see in the movies.  She would like a “clean white house” with some modern amenities and a little yard.

            Like some of the character in Crash, America commits a crime, although on a much lesser scale.  She steals fruit from a garden.  She has never before committed a crime.  But the desperateness of seeing those around her thrive while she struggles to eat is too much.  Sadly, also like many of the characters in Crash, they are also unable to defend themselves from attacks.  They are out in the open air and have a hard time with the language.  First, some kids smash up their camp for fun.  Then America is raped.  They go to the city where Candido is robbed, and they eat garbage to survive.  They return to their campsite in the valley and things are looking up until Candido accidentally sets the whole valley on fire.  Their savings are burned up, and they must start over once again.  Their daughter is born blind.

            Kyra Mossbacher and her family have achieved the American Dream.  Have they worked harder than the Rincon family to achieve this dream.  The reader can clearly see that they have not.  It is simply that the dream is open to this family and closed to others.  Kyra Mossbacher has a dream of possessing even more.  she wants the Da Ros place which is a huge mansion “in the style of an English manor house, comprising eleven thousand square of living space” (222).  Kyra must replace her “dream” after this place is destroyed by fire.  they live a charmed life with their young son and their pets.  They are sheltered from the cruel realities of what many others face in this life.

            While Delaney calls himself a “liberal humanist” (3), he has some chance encounters with Mexicans that slowly turn him into a racist. First, he runs into Candido with his car.  he is guilty at first and then angry at this illegal for being in the road.  Finally he hands him a $20 and calls it even.   Apparently this is what an illegal immigrant’s life is worth, $20.  As other things happen, Delaney become angrier at Mexican illegals.  First, a coyote takes his dog.  then his Acura is stolen by thieves.

His neighborhood also becomes angry and begins to wall in his community.  they are protecting their American Dream, but in doing so, they are stopping others from attainting this dream.   Ironically, the people building these fences are the illegal immigrants themselves, like Candida and his friends.  Kyra’s lobbying closes the labor exchange.  he wants vengeance on Candido.  He goes to the campsite with a gun and a mudslide starts.  While Delaney saves Candido, the baby drowns.  The tragedy in the end of this book is beyond compare.

            What the movie Crash and the book Tortilla Curtain teach the reader is that there are no easy answers.  Illegal immigration is not rationalized or approved of in any way, and yet, these people need to survive.  We all fight for the American dream, and we all want to protect ourselves against people who want to take from us.  That is human nature.  In Crash, the idea is that we crash into people because we are so starved for human touch.  Therefore, we have these chance encounters with people we never would have met otherwise; some of them are good and some are bad.  The average person struggles everyday and life isn’t easy.

There is no such thing as equal opportunity in this country and hard work is not even remotely close to all that is necessary to achieve the American Dream.  In Tortilla Curtain, the same kinds of lessons are taught.  Delaney and Candido meet quite literally in a “crash” scene, and Delaney describes himself as a liberal until he starts to fear those trying to get a piece of their own dream by disrupting his.  Then, he fights back.  It isn’t America and Candido’s fault because they want to make a better life for themselves and their baby, and it isn’t really Delaney’s fault because he wants to keep the life he has.  The story ends about as tragically as one could.

            Both of these pieces tell the reader/viewer something about empathy.  Maybe if everyone could try just a little harder to understand the stories of others, to understand where others are coming from, we could solve some of our problems.   Everyone wants the same things in the end.

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