Signs Preceding the End of the World

by

Yuri Herrera

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Signs Preceding the End of the World: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Makina sees nothing, and then “two mountains colliding in the back of beyond.” Chucho informs her that, past these mountains, she will find a truck to “take [her] on [her] way.” She sees what appears to be a pregnant women resting under a tree and considers this a good sign for her journey. But then she realizes it is a dead man “swollen with putrefaction, his eyes and tongue pecked out by buzzards.” Chucho tells Makina about a time he helped a man cross back to visit his dying wife—they got lost on the way, and the man’s wife was dead by the time the man returned.
Herrera’s prose is bare except for this chapter’s signature topographical symbol—the “two mountains colliding”—which he takes directly from the Mictlán narrative. The corpse Makina encounters acts as a symbol on several different levels: it represents the dangers of the journey into the United States, invokes the book’s constant reference to death and the underworld, and the signifies the transformation of something seemingly innocuous and beautiful into a horrid, barren reality. In this sense, the transformation from a living person to a corpse points to how immigrants’ hopes can be unceremoniously stamped out and left to die by racism and the brutality of life as a migrant worker in the U.S.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Makina remembers when “one of the first to strike it rich after going north” returned to the Village. He showed off his clothes and mobile phone, which he used to try and get revenge against Makina for “fuck[ing] him over.” He showed the Village how to use the phone and said it meant Makina was “going to be out of a job,” but the phone did not work. Makina joked that he “should have bought a few cell towers, too.”
This vignette concretely shows the reader Makina’s prominence in the Village, as well as the way it seems to infuriate so many of the young men she spurns and probably out-earns. The lack of cell towers explains why Makina’s rural area still has a telephone switchboard after the rest of the world has spent so many years married to modern telecommunications technology.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
A black truck with searchlights is following Makina and Chucho. Its driver is “an anglo with dark glasses” whose “eyes [shoot] bullets through the two windows.” They stop at the shack where Makina is supposed to change before boarding the truck beyond the mountains, and Chucho makes a phone call. “In anglo tongue,” Chucho tells someone he calls “officer” that he has “the info I promised,” and to “be careful, [because] he’s armed to the eyeballs.” Makina undresses inside while Chucho guards the door and the gun-wielding anglo waits beside his truck. Standing naked for a long moment, Makina feels “tension without fear” and realizes she feels no guilt about desiring Chucho.
The anglo’s sudden appearance points to another enduring danger in the desert of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands: the nationalistic militias, both formal and informal, who make it their mission to keep migrants out of the United States. In a not altogether unrealistic scenario, Chucho ends up on the side of law and order against a vigilante who assumes that he has the right to use even lethal force to keep Makina out of the United States. As Chucho protects Makina, her attraction toward him is novel and important because, perhaps for the first time, it is untinged by power or shame: she feels attraction to him as an equal, knowing that neither side has ulterior motives.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Makina gets dressed and asks Chucho about his phone conversation. He explains that he thinks the anglo outside has “his own lil undercover business,” and is less worried about Makina and Chucho “not having papers” than about them “muscling in on his act.” Or “maybe the dumbfuck is just in up to his neck,” Chucho speculates. “If the shit hits the fan,” he tells her to just “head for that mountain pass and stay on the trail.” When Chucho turns his back to walk toward the door, Makina hides Cora’s note and Mr. Aitch’s package in her jacket.
Chucho reveals that there is no real difference, legal or moral, between his job and the anglo’s. The anglo is motivated not by racism or patriotism gone out of hand, but merely by his own business interests, which reflects the way American capitalism effects racial exclusion more broadly.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
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Outside, the revolver-wielding anglo rancher confronts Chucho and Makina: “You just took your last trip, coyote.” Chucho declares that the man has not caught them in the act, and the man points his gun at them. At once, they notice a pair of police trucks approaching them—and Chucho grabs the distracted anglo rancher’s arm. The rancher shoots but misses, and the police cars stop nearby as the rancher and Chucho fall to the ground, where they wrestle over the gun. Chucho tells Makina to run, but she assumes he is yelling for help and approaches him. “[Not] used to having people say Run away,” Makina tries to help Chucho fight off the man, but Chucho gets the upper hand and Makina decides to run off toward the mountains.
Chucho and the anglo’s confrontation reflects a difference in thinking about what people like Chucho actually do: while the anglo sees him as a criminal human smuggler, Chucho believes he is helping people realize their dreams and working to unite families. With the police approaching, it is unclear who is right and wrong in the confrontation. Makina’s realization that she must go on and let Chucho fight her battle is a reversal of gender roles, as he is essentially supporting her as she goes forth as the hero of the story. Makina is used to embodying this supporter role, caring for her family or helping villagers communicate at the switchboard. But here, she realizes for the first time that her own journey is the priority, as opposed to a standard border tale in which Chucho would be the protagonist and she would be there to support him.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Related Quotes
From a distance, Makina turns around and sees the police aiming their guns at Chucho, who is laying on the ground with his hands behind his head, and the unconscious anglo rancher. She realizes that she has been shot, but her wound neither hurts nor bleeds. She looks back to see Chucho talking to the police and imagines he is “talking, more than anything, about her.” So she continues walking uphill.
Makina’s mysterious resistance to the bullet makes her seem even more like a mythical or superhuman figure, and this again illustrates the allegorical parallel of her story with the Mictlán myth. Leaving Chucho affects her more than getting shot. But again, as though of necessity, the people she meets along her journey must fulfill their purposes and fall away so that she can continue pushing forward as the hero of the narrative.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
“Rucksacks,” the narrator wonders, “what do people whose life stops here take with them?” For Makina, people’s rucksacks are “crammed with time” and full of things that help them remember: “amulets, letters,” small instruments, and always photos. People usually bring jackets for the freezing nights, and hide money and knives just in case. In her own rucksack, Makina carries a flashlight, a nice white blouse “in case she [comes] across any parties,” extra clean underwear, a dictionary, her little sister’s drawing of their family, soap, lipstick, and “as provisions: amaranth cakes and peanut brittle.” There is so little because she knows she will be “coming right back” home.
In this diversion at the end of the chapter, Herrera uses the rucksack as a symbol of memory and identity. Makina’s lack of survival gear demonstrates her fearlessness about the journey and confidence that it is only temporary. Indeed, the fact that she carries none of the typical items implies a sharp distinction between her and other migrants. Makina’s little sister’s drawing implies the girl’s importance to Makina, who in many ways lives to provide her with a role model. Amaranth, an important Indigenous food, also points to her desire to stay rooted to home.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Related Quotes