The Mexicans agricultural workers, who had come in illegally or were working beyond their contracts, were being flown to a deportation center where they would be sent back to Mexico. Woody Guthrie was struck by the way in which the article in the newspaper named each of the crew members and the immigration guard, but none of the migrants. They were “just deportees” So-- that was the origin of the song and of the haunting refrain-- “all they will call you will be deportees.” and the last line: “to be called by no name, except deportee.” This song, which also captures the dehumanization theme by its emphasis on the “nameless” condition of the immigrants, is as relevant to Candido and America's story as The Grapes of Wrath, if not more.At this point I want to turn to a discussion of some of the names in the novel and the title. Names and titles are an important way novelists have of suggesting themes or ideas. On Monday I mentioned the irony of Delaney's last name, Mossbacher. There are other names that have some symbolic significance. Candido gets his name from Voltaire's character, Candide, also the title of Voltaire's novel or parable. Voltaire's Candide is a naïve, simple, good hearted
fellow who has one misadventure after another as he tries to rescue the woman he loves. Candide is an optimist, but the world he lives in is utterly chaotic-- full of oppression, poverty, greed, the sexual exploitation of women, dishonesty, as well as natural disasters. Through the character of Candide, Voltaire makes fun of the optimistic philosophies of some Enlightenment thinkers and satirizes organized religion; Candide believes against all evidence that God has put him in the best of all possible worlds. In Tortilla Curtain, Boyle creates a character whose misfortunes certainly rival that of his namesake. Consider Candido's amazing bad luck-- the long litany of woes that go back to his mother's death and her harsh words to him, the infidelity and desertion of his first wife, his prior misadventures in the U.S. as an illegal immigrant, accidentally causing the death of friends, betrayed by a coyote at the border, robbed and stripped by Mexicans, getting caught by the INS. And all that is the back story. The novel opens with Candido being hit by a car, his America gets robbed and raped (and apparently contracts a venereal disease), he's pushed around in a parking lot, they get robbed when they go into Los Angeles, the labor exchange is closed down and he can't get work. By the time he gets that turkey-- you know something bad has got to happen, next. Sure enough, he sets the canyon on fire and a few weeks later is washed away in a flood! Like his namesake, Candide, he survives, but I must say Voltaire gives his character a much happier ending. Candido's misfortunes are so relentless that his character verges on the mythic. We are forced to ask if he is a realistic character who is at least partially responsible for his situation-- or is he primarily a symbolic character-- a vehicle for Boyle's satire on the naïve optimism of the American dream?