Truth versus Lies
One of the primary themes in Tangerine is the importance of telling the truth and living the truth as well as the consequences of lies. As star football player Antoine Thomas advises Paul toward the end of the novel, ‘‘Don’t spend your life hiding under the bleachers, little brother. The truth shall set you free.’’ Paul responds, ‘‘Yes! Yes!’’ Truths and falsehoods are important to nearly every plot in Tangerine, even secondary ones. Old Charley Burns, for example, takes bribes and does not find out the truth about the poor quality of most of the construction projects in the area. Because of Burns, a sinkhole develops that engulfs the junior high school portable classrooms. As a result, he must resign.
For Paul, the truth about what happened to make him legally blind is very important. He does not remember until the end of the novel that his older brother Erik held him down and convinced his friend Vincent Castor to force spray paint into five-year-old Paul’s eyes. Paul’s parents have not told the truth to him about what happened to him and allowed Erik’s lie about Paul staring at a solar eclipse to become the accepted truth. Such lies have eaten away at the family’s interpersonal relationships and perhaps allowed Paul’s parents to rationalize not dealing with Erik’s problems. Mr. and Mrs. Fisher have let the truth become unimportant in their lives—to their own detriment.
Paul gradually remembers more and more about his personal truth as he observes or helps uncover other characters’ truths. For example, Paul can see that Erik and Arthur are destructive and only care about their own personal gain, because the truth does not matter to them. Although Paul does not know that they robbed houses in the neighborhood until his mother reveals that painful truth in a meeting at the Fisher home, he knows other truths about them. For example, Paul witnesses how Erik and Arthur make fun of Mike Costello’s death and Joey’s immediate reaction to it in front of him and Joey yet Erik and Arthur act respectfully in front of Erik and Paul’s mother. Erik puts on a similar front whenever adults are around, but reveals his true mean-spirited nature when alone with his peers or those younger than him.
Antoine is one peer who does not respect Erik because he, like Paul, knows that Erik does not respect or care about the truth. Like Paul, Antoine witnesses Erik order Arthur to use a blackjack on Luis Cruz when he confronts Erik and Arthur about hitting his younger brother, Tino, at the Fisher house. This act eventually causes Luis’s death, but not before Antoine and a few other football players vow to help Luis get back at Erik and Arthur. One way Antoine hurts Erik is by telling the truth about his eligibility to play at Lake Windsor to Bill Donnelly. Antoine lives in Tangerine, not Lake Windsor, and plays football at Lake Windsor High School with the full knowledge of the staff. By telling the truth, all of Lake Windsor’s wins are nullified, as are the school records set during his playing days. This action makes Erik’s short-lived career there also essentially off the books. While the adults lie about not knowing where Antoine lived, Antoine is freed by the truth. So is his sister Shandra, who attends Tangerine Middle School and has to hide from Donnelly when he comes to write about the best girl soccer players at the school.
Life and Death
There are three deaths in Tangerine—those of Mike Costello, Luis Cruz, and Old Charley Burns—and each one underscores the importance of life and death to the story. Edward Bloor emphasizes the fragility of life and how close people are to death every day, while also using each death as an example of why the truth is important. Mike Costello dies because he was standing next to a goalpost that was struck by lightning. Because of his death, Caroline Fisher works to get football practices moved to a time when lightning strikes are less common. His death also allows Bloor to show how poorly Erik and Arthur behave. Old Charley Burns’s death has a similar purpose. He has a heart attack in his lawyer’s office after admitting to taking bribes for years and not investigating construction permits. His actions defrauded the people of Tangerine County and contributed to his death. While Mike’s death is a tragic accident and Burns’s death a tragic result of his own actions, Luis Cruz’s death is the most unnecessary of all. Luis plays a key part in his father’s life as well as that of his younger siblings. He helps out with the family business, has developed a new type of tangerine that could put the business on the map, and helps out by driving the twins to and from school. Luis also provides a role model for Paul, who can relate to Luis’s passion for tangerines and his open nature. Luis ends up dead because he dared to confront Erik and Arthur over their treatment of Tino at Paul’s house. Through his confrontation, Luis ends up showing the depth of Erik and Arthur’s disrespect of others. Luis’s death is the one that compels Paul to fully confront what happened to him and understand the importance of telling the truth. These deaths each bring the truth about many aspects of the story closer to the light.
Favoritism for Sports Stars
Another idea explored in Tangerine is the favoritism shown for people who play sports. Paul repeatedly refers to his father’s obsession with Erik as a star football player as the ‘‘Erik Fisher Football Dream.’’ Mr. Fisher focuses to the exclusion of other things on getting Erik noticed as an extremely talented placekicker. He believes that Erik can play football for a prestigious university, then perhaps professionally, and does whatever he can to help him reach that goal. Mr. Fisher favors Erik to the extreme because of his talent and ignores Paul and his own solid soccer skills. Mr. Fisher insists on attending every one of Erik’s football events but never once attends a game of Paul’s and knows nothing about what his younger son does as a member of the soccer team. Mrs. Fisher only attends one game of Paul’s, the last one played at Lake Windsor Middle School. She does not place as much importance on Erik’s star status and does little more than drive him to and from practices and games. Bloor draws a portrait of the parents as favoring Erik, the arrogant high school sports star, over Paul, the handicapped middle school soccer player. This situation allows Paul to have empathy for others and become more certain that the truth is one of the most important things in life. Such favoritism essentially ends when it is revealed that Erik helped rob neighborhood homes and contributed to the death of Luis. However, the mistakes of the parents only serve to build the character of Paul.
Sara Constantakis, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Edward Bloor, Volume 33, Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010