Study Guide

Tangerine Themes

  • Family

    It may not be the Addams Family, but it's close. Most of Tangerine focuses on the dysfunctional family dynamics between Paul, Erik, and his parents. Family has made both Paul and Erik who they are. (Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.) In Paul's case, this isn't bad, because he's a nice kid. In Erik's case, it's downright dangerous. Like evil dominoes, families shape people, who then shape society. By the end, we know that we'd all be a lot better off with more families like the Cruzes and fewer like the Fishers. Yay! Go love and closeness and all that good stuff!

    Questions About Family

    1. Why does Paul like hanging out at the Cruz grove so much, rather than at his own home? Is it just the tangerines, or something more?
    2. What is it exactly that differentiates Paul and his family from Tino and Luis's family?
    3. Who is most at fault for Paul's eye injury—Erik? His mother? Or his father? Why? 
    4. What other families do we catch a glimpse of in Tangerine? What are they like?

    Chew on This

    If Erik had grown up in the Cruz family instead of his own, he would have turned out a decent person, instead of the monster he is today.

    Even if Erik had been punished for hurting Paul, he still would have turned out a bully.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Paul's entire childhood is based around a lie, and it's not about Santa Claus. It's about his eyes. Paul knows that someone is lying to him, but he doesn't remember the truth. This lie is a like, well, an eclipse covering up the sun. Where the sun is the truth. Get it? The lie infects everything from the family to their relationship with their community. But they can only pretend that everything is fine for so long. Eventually, the eclipse ends, the truth comes out, and we learn why Paul can't see well. But the truth is bright enough for even him to see.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. How would Paul's life have been different if his parents had told him about Erik hurting him, even if they still hadn't punished Erik? Would things be worse or better?
    2. Why does Luis's death finally allow Paul to confront his parents with the truth? 
    3. Is it okay to lie in a case like Antoine's, where he thought he needed to play for Lake Windsor to achieve his goals in life?

    Chew on This

    It would have been better if Erik had come up with the story of Eclipse Boy, and his parents just had just gone along with it. The fact that his parents invented the story makes the whole thing worse.

    Paul uses his journal as the outlet for his true feelings, but Erik and his parents don't want anyone to confide in because they're hiding something awful.

  • Fear

    Fear dominates Paul's life. If Fear told him to do something, and he said "No, Fear, you're not the boss of me," Fear would say, "Oh, yes I am!" Ever since kindergarten, Paul has been afraid of his brother. Why? He's not quite sure. Fear of the unknown (like ghosts) is much worse than fear of the known (like Brussels sprouts), and poor Paul has been trying to understand his fear and remember his past for years. But Tangerine is more complicated than that: Paul doesn't mind causing a little fear himself, as a member of the War Eagles. So is there a chance that fear will turn him into another Erik?

    Questions About Fear

    1. Is Paul wrong to want to cause fear in his soccer opponents? Is that a character flaw of his? A reaction to his brother's behavior? The product of his family life? 
    2. How does Paul deal with his fear? 
    3. If Paul had known all along what Erik did to him, would he still be as afraid?

    Chew on This

    Paul can only relate to his family through fear.

    Paul's parents didn't punish Erik was because of their own fear. They thought ignoring Erik's behavior would make it go away.

  • Identity

    Tangerine is about Paul's search for his identity. (No, not his ID, his identity. Way more serious, although involving fewer lines at the DMV.) Sure, he wants to remember what happened to him in his past, but it's more than that—he needs to know what he can do. He finds that out in his soccer matches, but more importantly, when he fights for Luis at the awards ceremony, and when he stands up to Erik and Arthur afterwards—and when he remembers what Erik did to him. Once he remembers, he can move forward. Whole. And yes, with ID card in hand.

    Questions About Identity

    1. If Paul had not remembered his eye injury when he does, would he have asked his parents to tell him about it? Or would he have kept silent about it still? Would he have even needed to know anymore?
    2. Do you think Paul's sense of his identity will change once he starts at St. Anthony's? How and why?
    3. If Erik has shaped Paul's identity, how has Paul shaped Erik's?

    Chew on This

    Paul could have snapped out of it without having to wait for another traumatic experience, but he didn't want to.

    Mr. and Mrs. Fisher never do find their own true identities

  • Prejudice

    Not liking people because they're immigrants? That's prejudice. Not liking Erik because he's a psycho? That's just good sense. Unfortunately, we see a lot more prejudice than good sense in Tangerine. Joey is prejudiced against the racial minorities at Tangerine Middle School. Various kids tease Paul about his eyes. The rich look down on the not-so-rich. Mrs. Fisher freaks out just at the suggestion that you could call an older, run-down neighborhood a "development." But those who live in the older parts of town look down on the richer people, as well, thinking they're snobs. Hey! Here's an idea. Maybe we should all just wait until after we know people to judge them. Then you can judge away.

    Questions About Prejudice

    1. Why does Joey look down on the kids in his class at Tangerine Middle? How do they react? 
    2. Do you think the people at Lake Windsor were prejudiced against Paul because of his glasses? Why or why not?
    3. How would Tino act if he was sent to Lake Windsor for school?

    Chew on This

    If the kids from the War Eagles were transferred into Lake Windsor Middle, and the kids from the Seagulls were transferred to Tangerine Middle, the War Eagles would fit in and make friends more easily than the Seagulls.

    Judging people is only a problem if you do it before you know it. It's fine to judge people like Erik and Anthony, because they deserve it.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Mother Nature is going nuts in Tangerine—but only in Lake Windsor Downs, where developers have destroyed everything natural in order to put their neighborhood full of identical houses with matching mailboxes in place. They want to create a perfect, plastic world, where they control everything. But they can't, and Mother Nature lets them know it. The tangerine farmers work with nature, instead of against it. They fight the freeze but accept it. Some trees will die, and some will live. Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba!

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. How does Lake Windsor Downs work against nature? How does nature fight back?
    2. How do the tangerine farmers work with nature? Are there any times when nature seems to work with them?
    3. Is the destruction all Old Charley Burns's fault or are others to blame, too? If so, who?

    Chew on This

    The non-native koi fish introduced into the Lake Windsor pond represent the people who live there, and the ospreys eating them represent nature taking revenge.

    The smoke from the muck fire always blows into the Fishers' yard, or smokes extra badly, when something bad is about to happen.

  • Memory and the Past

    Paul's memory, or lack of one, drives most of Tangerine's suspense and action. Our past is so important to our identity that missing any part of it creates a terrible void. And no one likes having a big chunk of empty brain in their head. Right, zombies? But Paul isn't the only one with amnesia. No one wants to talk about or remember Mike's death, either, until months later, when they finally plant a tree in his honor. And the new inhabitants have even mostly forgotten Tangerine's past as the tangerine capital of the world. Even though its name is Tangerine. How's that for blindness?

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. What do you think Paul was like before he was hurt? Can he ever go back to being like that again? Should he?
    2. Why did he repress that memory, if it was so important in his life?
    3. What if instead of repressing the memory, Paul had substituted a false memory instead? How would that have affected things?

    Chew on This

    Remembering his own past, on his own, is more meaningful for Paul than if he had just been told what happened to him.

    Paul's past affects every single thing that he ever does.

  • Society and Class

    Surprise: the situation Tangerine is really a commentary on modern American society. All over America, more and more people choose to live in hastily constructed but expensive and fancy suburbs or exurbs, which are generally not too awesome for the land where they're built. But someone like Mrs. Fisher doesn't care about the muck fires: she just cares that her house signals her money. Even though the people who live in the older parts of Tangerine are safer and happier, they're still losing the game of life (according to Mrs. Fisher): it's all about the benjamins.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Why does someone like Mr. Fisher look down on someone like Wayne Dikes?
    2. Why does Wayne think the people in Lake Windsor Downs are silly?
    3. What did Mrs. Fisher mean when she said "That was quite a ride," after Paul's victory ride back to school?

    Chew on This

    The quality of a home's construction reflects the quality of the people who live there.

    The place a person chooses to live says a lot about who they are and what they value.