How would a Marxist interpret the rising action that takes place in T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Marxist literary criticism bases its theories off of Karl Marx, who argued there is an ongoing battle between the lower and elite classes and that capitalism leads to oppression. Marx further showed that our socioeconomic statuses are the one thing that impact our daily lives the most. Hence, when a literary critic analyzes literature from a Marxist standpoint, that critic is looking for who is being benefited in the story, the lower class, the middle class, or the elite. Marxist critics will also analyze literature to see who is being oppressed in the story. Even more specifically, a Marxist critic will look at what social class the author is in, what social class the work is supposed to represent, what social class the characters represent, what values the work augments, and what values the work undermines.

T. Coraghessan Boyle, author of The Tortiall Curtain, was born into the lower middle class of Peekskill, New York. As a member of the lower middle class, he has had experiences with alcoholic parents and even suffered from his own drug addictions. However, he managed to rise above his circumstances through his college education and is now part of the educated upper middle class. In The Tortilla Curtain, as a member of the lower middle class who rose to the educated class, he strives to represent the lowest class of all, the destitute immigrants.

In The Tortilla Curtain, Boyle parallels the life of illegal Mexican immigrant Cándido Rincón with upper-middle-class suburban Los Angeles resident Delaney Mossbacher. The climax occurs the moment Delaney pursues Cándido to the shack in the woods Cándido lives in. 
Delaney's intention was to declare a law suit against Cándido for having accidentally started a brush fire that endangered Delaney's suburban home. But, at that moment, both Delaney and Cándido are surprised by a flash flood, caused by an earlier downpour, that nearly took both of their lives. It takes a flood for Delaney to finally see Cándido as the brother in humanity and mortality he truly is.

Prior to this climax, the rising action depicts their first encounter, which was a moment when Delaney hit Cándido on the highway Cándido was crossing to bring what few groceries he could to his wife. In this encounter, though Delaney feels he should, he does nothing to help Cándido out of his suffering except give him 20 dollars. Other rising action includes Cándido struggling to find work, fretting over the fact that his pregnant wife América will soon deliver a child, battling against corrupt employers, and battling against bigotry. He even drowns his sorrow in alcohol.

All of these moments of rising action serve to portray Cándido as being oppressed by those in higher socioeconomic statuses. The story further shows that only the higher socioeconomic classes have the power to pull those like Cándido out of their suffering. Finally, the story also shows that those in the upper middle class, like Delaney benefit the most, but that benefit is limited so long as the higher socioeconomic classes continue waging a war against the lower classes rather than striving to raise them up, as we see in the scene concerning the brush fire.

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