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!
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.