Signs Preceding the End of the World


Yuri Herrera

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Underground Spaces Symbol Analysis

Underground Spaces Symbol Icon

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

The Signs Preceding the End of the World quotes below all refer to the symbol of Underground Spaces. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the And Other Stories edition of Signs Preceding the End of the World published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Makina
Related Symbols: Underground Spaces
Page Number: 11-2
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Makina
Related Symbols: Underground Spaces
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
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Underground Spaces Symbol Timeline in Signs Preceding the End of the World

The timeline below shows where the symbol Underground Spaces appears in Signs Preceding the End of the World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Earth
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
Makina tells herself that she is dead—a sinkhole has just opened up in the street and swallowed a man, car, and dog. It... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Place Where the Wind Cuts like a Knife
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Racism, Inequality, and Social Change Theme Icon
Makina arrives to find “sheer emptiness”: machines are digging a hole under whatever used to be at the address, which seems to have been “pulled out... (full context)