Signs Preceding the End of the World

by

Yuri Herrera

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Signs Preceding the End of the World: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Makina walks persistently, pushing herself forward despite not knowing how or when she will make it home. Passing through a park, she meets Chucho, who has been “looking out for” her throughout her journey. He knows her whole story and tells her not to indulge her confusion and fear about this new land, where people “live in fear of the lights going out” and “want to live forever” but do not understand that “they need to change color and number,” which is “already happening.” He tells Makina to follow him and leads her down a labyrinth of streets.
Having crossed the border but not completed her mission in the United States, it seems that Makina’s work is done and it is time for her to return to Mexico, as she always wanted. Chucho’s presence confirms that the three Misters have been watching over her throughout her journey—now it is time for the assistance of Mr. Q, who promised to get Makina “where [she] need[s] to be” in the first chapter. Chucho’s mysterious advice to Makina highlights the United States’ glorification of modernity, which renders Americans unsustainably dependent on things like electricity and fixated with perpetuating their disproportionate wealth and power. It is possible to read his comment about “chang[ing] in color and number” as a comment about demographics, or about the underworld, which offers people’s only true chance at existing eternally.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Chucho and Makina reach a door, and he promises that the people behind it will “give [her] a hand.” She opens it, feels a cold breeze, and finds a long spiral staircase. She descends it and finds a different door, which is answered by “a handsome old woman.” Before entering, Makina sees a sign above the door that reads “Verseand realizes she cannot remember the equivalent word in “any of her tongues.” The old woman gives her a cigarette and invites her inside, to a “specific yet inexact, somehow unreal and yet vivid” room full of people smoking. There is no ventilation but also no smell. Makina is suddenly afraid, convinced “something’s about to happen.” But she relaxes before noticing that only one thing is audible: “the sound of running water.” She has not bathed in a long time, she remembers, but knows she does not smell.
Descending the staircase, Makina’s loss of language is the first sign that she is becoming something completely new. The sign, “verse,” explicitly points to Herrera’s most important neologism and announces that Makina will be changing phase when she passes through the door, exiting and transforming, leaving in order to leave who she was behind. Even more than any other section in the novel, this scene is full of imagery straight out of the Mictlán myth. At the end of their nine-phase journey through the underworld, deceased souls reached the place named in this chapter’s title, “The Obsidian Place with No Windows or Holes for the Smoke,” where the god and goddess of death also lived and bid souls to rest for the rest of eternity. In Herrera’s retelling, the smoke that obscures the vision of the dead in Mictlán becomes cigarette smoke, and the nine rivers that must be crossed become the unmistakable sound of water that signals Makina’s arrival.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Related Quotes
“A tall, thin man draped in a baggy leather jacket” brings Makina a file with her photo but a totally new identity: a new name, phone number, job, and address. She remarks, “I’ve been skinned.” The man is already gone, and this new world is overwhelming, with “so many new things crowding in on the old ones.” But soon, again, she grows relieved and loses “the weight of uncertainty and guilt.” Makina remembers her old life that is “now fading away: the Village, the Little Town and the Big Chilango.” She grows to understand that this is all “not a cataclysm.” As “everything in the world [falls] silent,” Makina tells herself, “I’m ready.”
The novel’s mysterious conclusion does not wrap up any of the questions readers are likely to have about Makina’s fate. Although she seemed eager to head home, now she has, like her brother, been given a new identity. The strangely-dressed people who “skin” her identity appear to be bureaucrats, but also represent the god and goddess of death. The implication is that Makina will stay where she is—whether the United States or this underground chamber where souls rest eternally in Mictlán. Makina ends the novel with words that parallel her first ones—not “I’m dead,” but “I’m ready,” suggesting that she has come full circle through her transformative journey into her new, hybrid Mexican American identity.
Themes
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Related Quotes