T. C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain begins with an epigraph taken from 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”—an intimation that he will probe the same issues Steinbeck explored and ask similar questions of his readers. Published fifty-five years apart, these novels have become companion pieces, telling virtually the same story of abuse and dispossession. Just as the Joads represent an entire population of Dust Bowl Americans, who migrate from nothingness into nothingness, facing horrors in California just as they had in their home states—unemployment, poverty, starvation and inhuman living conditions—Boyle shows that these historical events are not specific to the 1930s. In contemporary California, large populations of Mexicans and Latin Americans immigrate with a dream, arriving only to find despair. Like Steinbeck, Boyle exposes their distressing realities. Both Steinbeck and Boyle were met with harsh criticism for their exposés that hit too close to home. Boyle, then, picks up where the earlier writer leaves off, devoted to continuing Steinbeck’s vital mission to bring wrong to light and, hopefully, to instigate social change.


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pp. 151-168
Launched on MUSE
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