The Devil’s Highway


Luis Alberto Urrea

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Themes and Colors
Desolation and Desperation Theme Icon
Myth, Religion, and The Spirit World Theme Icon
Humanity and “Illegality” Theme Icon
Bearing Witness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Devil’s Highway, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In the world of The Devil’s Highway, desolation is a daily lived reality for the desperate, impoverished Mexican immigrants who, in May of 2001, set out to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Seeking to escape the poverty and hopelessness that define their lives in Veracruz, the men who would become the Wellton 26 take out loans, leave their families behind, and risk everything to travel to the border. Upon crossing it, they find themselves abandoned…

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The opening pages of The Devil’s Highway read like ancient lore. As Luís Alberto Urrea describes the height of the Wellton 26’s treacherous ordeal, he invokes ancient myths describing the imprisonment of fallen angels in the desert sand, as well as “dark and mysterious” desert spirits and gods who rule the wasteland with brutality and “retribution.” The “noxious” and unforgiving natural world of the desert is described in heavy detail—“poisonous and alien” snakes, spiders, and…

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In the early pages of The Devil’s Highway, Luís Alberto Urrea writes that “’Getting bodies,’ in Border Patrol lingo, didn’t necessarily mean collecting corpses. Bodies were living people.” He goes on to describe the ways in which the Border Patrol, or la Migra, refers to the “illegal aliens” they find wandering the Cabeza Prieta as “wets” (a shortening of the slur “wetbacks”), “tonks” (so called for “the stark sound of a flashlight breaking over…

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“The triumvirate of Desolation—walkers, smugglers, and Migra—were all worthy of witness,” Luís Alberto Urrea writes in the Afterword to The Devil’s Highway. His inspiration for the book was the act of bearing witness not just to the stories of the Wellton 26, but also to the stories of the people and circumstances that led them there. By taking a holistic approach to the act of bearing witness, Urrea argues that the only…

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