In the novel, underground spaces—holes, tunnels, and chambers—represent the opposite yet parallel worlds of the Mexico and the United States, as well as the transformative journey that migrants undergo to cross the border between these two nations. The book’s nine-chapter structure parallels the traditional Aztec Mictlán myth, in which dead souls undergo a nine-stage journey in the underworld as they transition from life to death. It is no coincidence, then, that the novel opens with a sinkhole absorbing an old man and his dog in the Little Town, transporting them what Makina calls both “to the underworld” and “Hell.” This abrupt reminder of the parallel world of suffering and struggle below the surface of everyday life; the unpredictability of the events that bring people down to the sinkhole foreshadows the volatile and unexpected circumstances that guide Makina’s journey. Makina also reveals that she only ever travels to the Big Chilango (Mexico City) underground, lest she get “lost forever.” To travel in the secret, parallel world beneath Mexico City means evading capture by the place, moving through it only as a phantom. And when Makina finally reaches end of her journey from Mexico to the U.S., she must descend to a mysterious chamber, “The Obsidian Place with No Windows or Holes for the Smoke,” which takes its name directly from the corresponding section of Mictlán. This strange, underground world may or not be her final resting place, as the novel also implies that she stays in the United States, which is its own sort of parallel world for Makina: the mythical destination to which so many of her compatriots in the Village traveled, never to return.
Underground Spaces Quotes in Signs Preceding the End of the World
I’m dead, Makina said to herself when everything lurched: a man with a cane was crossing the street, a dull groan suddenly surged through the asphalt, the man stood still as if waiting for someone to repeat the question and then the earth opened up beneath his feet: it swallowed the man, and with him a car and a dog, all the oxygen around and even the screams of passers-by. I’m dead, Makina said to herself, and hardly had she said it than her whole body began to contest that verdict and she flailed her feet frantically backward, each step mere inches from the sinkhole, until the precipice settled into a perfect
circle and Makina was saved.
Slippery bitch of a city, she said to herself. Always about to sink back into the cellar.
The Little Town was riddled with bullet holes and tunnels bored by five centuries of voracious silver lust, and from time to time some poor soul accidentally discovered just what a half-assed job they’d done of covering them over.
She couldn’t get lost. Every time she came to the Big Chilango she trod softly, because that was not the place she wanted to leave her mark, and she told herself repeatedly that she couldn’t get lost, and by get lost she meant not a detour or a sidetrack but lost for real, lost forever in the hills of hills cementing the horizon: or lost in the awe of all the living flesh that had built and paid for palaces. That was why she chose to travel underground to the other bus depot. Trains ran around the entire circulatory system but never left the body: down there the heavy air would do her no harm, and she ran no risk of becoming captivated. And she mustn’t get lost or captivated, too many people were waiting for her.