Signs Preceding the End of the World

by

Yuri Herrera

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Signs Preceding the End of the World: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Makina gets to the pass between the two mountains, where it is snowing. It is her first time seeing snow, and she watches it melt as she wonders why “some things in the world—some countries, some people—could seem eternal when everything [is] actually […] one-of-a-kind, precious, fragile.”
Makina’s observation about seemingly eternal things actually being gestures the role this dichotomy plays in her story. Each stage of her journey and, ultimately, of the identity with which she started her migration, are fluid and fleeting. The basis of her story, by contrast, is a seemingly eternal myth that has outlived the people who created it, and, at that, a myth about the eternal life of the dead.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Beyond the mountains, Makina meets Mr. Aitch’s man with the truck. They do not talk during the journey, and Makina “look[s] out [the window] without seeing” and reminds herself that she needs to return home to the switchboard, to help everyone who needs to “communicat[e] with their kith and kin.”
In stark contrast to Chucho, Mr. Aitch’s man does nothing more and nothing less than the job he is sent for. Makina recommits to returning home just as she is about to enter the city, which will provide her with a tangible sense of the difference between Mexico and the United States for the first time.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
The city Makina reaches is full of “signs prohibiting things,” which appear intended for “citizens to see themselves as ever protected.” Its supermarkets promise that “you could have more than everyone else or something different or a newer brand.” Makina notices anglo shoppers “nearly-nearly jump[ing]” at the self-checkout aisle, but also the “fleeting looks of recognition” from “her compatriots”: the immigrant laborers who populate the city’s public space, but are “just there to take orders.” The restaurants are full of novel recipes, “rapturous fried feasts” and “food that was strange but with something familiar mixed in.” Although the restaurant managers look at her strangely, she soon realizes that their workers are all also Mexicans. “All cooking is Mexican cooking,” she jokingly decides.
It is telling that Makina first notices the regulation and systemization of daily life in the United States—everyone has to follow the same rules, and everyone pursues the same luxuries through the same economic means. Whereas life in Mexico was about survival and community, it is immediately clear that life in the Untied States is about  accumulation and consumption. Makina sees not diversity but hierarchy: there is an obvious social divide between white people and Mexicans, who respectively represent the consumers and producers of everyday material goods. She also sees the flipside of the pilgrimage so many of her friends and acquaintances have made from the Village: the Mexicans working menial jobs are the people who have successfully crossed the border, but these jobs seem like paltry rewards in comparison to their effort and expectations. At the same time as these discoveries shock Makina, they also seem to draw her in with their sense of novelty and possibility.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Makina takes out Mr. Aitch’s package and shows it to the driver, but he insists that “you don’t give nothing to me” and instead leaves her on a random, empty street corner where people are supposed to meet her and “tell [her] where to take it.” An old man outside a flower store tells her to “go clean up” inside the shop. She washes and notices that her wound “hardly even [stings].” Back outside, the old man shows her that cops are following them and explains that they will “walk till they get sidetracked.” As they walk toward the stadium, where Makina will hand over the package, the car disappears and returns.
The flippant driver’s indifference means Makina is again left in an unfamiliar place, without guidance, reliant on the three men to whom she has entrusted her safety. Even this far from home, she is utterly dependent on the ties and trust she forged back in the Village. Makina’s ongoing connection to her roots is subtly reflected in the fact that she washes and changes during the same stages of her journey as deceased souls were supposed to on their trip through Mictlán in the traditional myth.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
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The old man begins to tell Makina about her brother, who is “alive and kicking,” but “changed.” Makina’s brother also helped Mr. Aitch transport a package, and “things got rough.” But he got through it and “went off on his business.” The old man gives Makina a piece of paper with her brother’s address. The car turns away again, although Makina and the old man do not know if they are in the clear. They have reached the stadium, where “it’s got to be done.” The man explains that “the anglos play a game [in the stadium] to celebrate who they are.” They run around the bases—they “have bases all over the world”—and try to make it back home without their enemies catching them. Makina asks if the man likes the game—he insists he is “just passing through” the North, although he has been there for 50 years.
Makina’s brother clearly went through the same difficult stages as her, which allows the reader to see Makina’s journey as an archetypal one. This evokes the sense that diverse migration experiences are collapsed into singular narratives that then encourage more people to migrate. The old man’s allegorical commentary on baseball points to how the sport is strange and alien to those unfamiliar with it, how baseball is a symbol of American identity, and the way American establishes that identity in relation to other countries. The “bases all over the world” are therefore  a reference to U.S. military imperialism. The old man’s feeling that he is “just passing through” shows how many Latinx people living in the United States feel alienated from and rejected by mainstream white culture, and generally how home can be as much a feeling as a physical place.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The man whistles and walks off. A kid directs Makina to walk down a long hallway, “toward the light.” At the end, she sees “two rival visions of beauty:” the “immense green diamond” of the field and the “obsidian mound” of thousands of chairs above it. A number of men approach her, “all black but some blacker than others,” with various builds and hairstyles but all “with faces that clearly conveyed they were serious motherfuckers.” A man promises to her “in latin tongue” that the men are “not such tough sonsofbitches,” and he turns out to be “Mr. P, the fourth top dog, [who] had fled the Little Town after a turf war with Mr. Aitch.” Makina realizes she might be in trouble, but Mr. P promises her she has “nothing to fear” because he and Aitch have reconciled.
Entering a highly-ordered, artificial, massive space that could not be more different from her Village, Makina sees “two rival versions of beauty” between the field (where the action happens and the  attention is directed) and the stands (which represent the anonymity of the ordered, homogenous crowd). The description suggests that this is Makina’s first time encountering African Americans, and that this specific racial category is culturally bound, historical rather than natural. Mr. P’s presence shows Makina that there is no strict binary between staying in Mexico or going to the United States, but rather that the two are linked by active networks and constant movement between the two.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Mr. P, who constantly pats the knife that hangs off his belt. He takes Makina’s package, tells his associates that “we’re cool,” in anglo tongue, and then propositions that Makina “come work for” him. She says she is “here for my brother,” and he looks around before exiting the stadium with all his men, leaving Makina all alone.
In contrast to Mr. Double-U, Mr. Aitch, and Mr. Q., Mr. P looks sinister and manipulative. The key difference is, of course, that he does not know or respect Makina, whom he instead treats as an object, both sexually and financially. This points to one of the most difficult choices migrants are forced to make when they relocate north of the border: a reputation, community, and sense of mutual trust at home, or utter anonymity in the United States.
Themes
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon