Abstract

T. C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain (1995) begins by paying homage to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939): Boyle's epigraph, quoted from Steinbeck's novel, creates a direct analogy between the Okies and the Mexican immigrants, their (im)migration, and their subsequent fate. Indeed, both novels protest against the Californians' attitude toward the weakened “Other” who struggles to make a living in their home state. As critics have noted, the parallels between the two novels are visible in various features, structural as well as thematic. Similar themes include the Californian Edenic dream, the economic depression, and a critique of consumer culture. I argue that a deeper similarity between the novels is their common preoccupation with filth. This focus, overlooked by scholars, can be read as part of an entire subgenre which I call “filth-fiction.” Exploring the novels' shared interest in the racial and socioeconomic significations of filth and the latter's connection to the ecological aspects, my article demonstrates how Tortilla—like the entire corpus of novels within this subgenre—carefully follows Steinbeck's lead despite the fact that it depicts a different racial layout. As my analysis shows, the impact of The Grapes of Wrath on contemporary U.S. fiction is evident, both in the representations of filthy “Others” and in the environmental awareness.

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