TC Boyle

Coyotes in the Prison of Trees

“And there it was, wild nature, up and over the
dense as if this were some sort of circus act.”

The parallels one can draw between man and animal are unparamount. The destruction each can have in the world around us, and on each other is frightening. But, the strength of each creature is also empowering. T.C. Boyle crafts his 1995 novel The Tortilla Curtain around the manmade and animal made destruction happening in California, just north of the Mexican border. He attempts to take a lot on in this book. The dancing back and forth between the voices of Delany, an upper middle class man living in a gated community with his real estate agent wife and child, and Candido, a illegal immigrant camping in the desert with his pregnant wife America, trying so hard to make a stable lives for themselves, gives a lot of perspective. The project of the wall, the Tortilla Curtain, that the whites are trying to build take on the issue of race and socioeconomic problems. The climate in which the book is set and the activities these characters participate on takes on the issue of environmentalism.

That’s a lot, and for the most part, it is executed nicely.

The words of Ramachandra Guha echo in my head again and again. “Nature became a source of cheap raw material as well as a sink for dumping the unwanted residues of economic growth.”

Delany calls Kyra out on the trying to cover her tracks by simply being worried about the dangers of the coyotes when really she is subliminally talking of an entire group of people. “This isn’t about the coyotes, don’t kid yourself. It’s about Mexicans, it’s about blacks. It’s about exclusion, division, hate.” Her comeback is honest and evil. “I don’t ever want one of those things on my property again. I’d move first, that’s what I’d do. Bulldoze the hills. Pave over it. To hell with nature.” Delany’s simple response to her inherent racism is, “You’re crazy.”

In the context of this novel and Boyle’s character Kyra, the immigrants about become her unwanted residues in the way of her economic growth. She is originally portrayed as someone that does value the earth and like to feel and build that connection and closeness to it, but how can that be possible if you do not see all living beings on the earth as equal?

This question has fluttered throughout my head throughout my time in my Writing in an Endangered World class that I have been taking during my last semester here at Keene State. What a send-off into the real world it has been. I have been studying literature and time periods for four years, and up until now, nothing has fundamentally altered my outlook on life. I don’t want to think I have been a selfish person or anything like Kyra is in this section of the book, but I have been naive to the utter lack of respect humans have on the earth and other humans that are all equal being upon this earth we take for granted. I had never asked myself what made me better than the trees that provide us oxygen to live or the animals that provide my family and strong healthy meal. Nature is not a source of “cheap raw material,” and it’s scary to know that some people see it that way.

I think Boyle can be praised for his two-sided display of Kyra. Yes, she is at the Sierra Club, yes she is health conscious and works with the natural earth to provide good food and exercise to herself and her child. BUT, her profession as a real estate agent allows her to have another, more self-centered and accepting side. She chooses money and her career over the lives of other humans. AND instead of coming right out and saying it she uses the coyote to hide behind. The Mexicans become this filthy dog killing creature to her. Allowing Delaney to not give into this insanity was a clever move for Boyle. “You’re crazy” was the perfect response and I think it is one that many of us say inside our heads.

When I hear politicians dismiss global warming, I think “you’re crazy!” When I hear someone dismissing the harm pesticides have on humans and the work of Carson, I think “you’re crazy!”

When I hear “the head-heavy power-hungry politic scientist
AaaaaaaaaaaaGovernment    two-world    Capitalist-Imperialist
aaaaaaaaaaaaThird-world     Communist   paper-shuffling male
aaaaaaaaaaaaNon-farmer      jet-set             bureaucrats
aaaaaaaaaaaaSpeak for the green of the leaf” I feel pissed off. I say, “you’re crazy!”

Candido also personalizes mankind and personifies nature to exemplify the destruction man has on man. After a horrible incident with a man abusing his wife, he expresses severe hate for the land to release his anger on mankind.

“There was no choice now, no doubt but that they were going to have
to leave this prison of trees, this dirt heap where she’d been robbed
and hurt and brutalized, where the days crept by like eternal years.”

A part of me wanted to feel anger at his calling the trees and the forest a prison, but then I had to reason with it a bit. He was doing this out of love and frustration for America. Unlike Kyra using the coyote as a stand-in for Mexicans because of her distaste for their illegal status bringing down the housing market.

I would have let out my frustration in the same way as him. It’s easy to blame the closest thing when you get angry. It’s easy to overlook the bigger picture when your peripheral vision is clouded with hate. It’s easy to not know everything that is happening, but none of these are excuses for at least making an effort to try and ask the important questions out there, and search for answers to them. I have talked in lengths about the questions presented to me by an array of environmentalist authors. I have yet to answer any of them with great strength, but allowing the space in my head to slowly fill with ideas and knowledge of the world is a good place to start to tackle them.

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