Signs Preceding the End of the World Summary

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a novel about a young Mexican woman named Makina who crosses the US-Mexico border to deliver a letter to her brother.

  • Makina enlists the help of three powerful criminals in crossing the border and eventually arrives in a city in the United States.
  • After searching for some time, Makina finds her brother serving on an army base but forgets to deliver the letter from their mother.
  • A man gives Makina the papers required for her to start a new life in the United States, and she decides to do so.

Summary

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Last Updated on February 1, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1032

Makina, the novel’s protagonist, lives in the Little Town, a place where silver mining has made the land unstable and subject to sinkholes. The narrative begins when a man, a dog, and a car are suddenly dragged down to the “underworld,” and Makina herself narrowly escapes sharing their fate. Although...

(The entire section contains 1032 words.)

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Makina, the novel’s protagonist, lives in the Little Town, a place where silver mining has made the land unstable and subject to sinkholes. The narrative begins when a man, a dog, and a car are suddenly dragged down to the “underworld,” and Makina herself narrowly escapes sharing their fate. Although she avoids being consumed by the earth on this occasion, Makina nonetheless tells herself “I’m dead,” and her journey through the nine chapters of the novel imitates the progress of the soul through the nine levels of the underworld in Aztec mythology.

Cora, Makina’s mother, has asked her to take a message to her brother, who left their community years ago to travel north. Makina seeks help on her journey from three men, Mr. Double-U, Mr. Aitch, and Mr. Q, all of whom are wealthy and powerful criminals. Each one promises to help Makina with a particular part of her mission: Mr. Double-U to cross the border, Mr. Aitch to locate her brother, and Mr. Q to get her home again. In addition, Mr. Aitch asks her to smuggle a parcel across the border.

Makina takes a bus north from a large city she calls “the Big Chilango.” The young man sitting next to her attempts to molest her, and when he persists, she grabs his finger and twists it hard, reducing him to tears. After a long journey through the night, the bus comes to “the end of the land,” and Makina checks into a cheap hotel beside a river. She has a wakeful night in a mixed dormitory and talks to other guests about the vexed process of crossing the border to the north. The next day, she meets Chucho, the contact tasked with helping her to cross the border. They attempt to cross the river in an inner tube, but the current is too strong, and Makina falls into the river. Chucho manages to rescue her and drag her to the opposite bank.

Chucho and Makina drive through the desert to the mountains. They are followed by a man whom they initially think is a border guard, but Chucho soon decides that he is probably another people smuggler who is attempting to eliminate his competitors. The man starts to shoot at them as they see the police approaching in the distance. Chucho calls to Makina to run away, and after some hesitation, she does so. As she looks back, she sees Chucho talking to the police.

Makina walks through the mountain pass, where she sees snow for the first time. She meets Mr. Aitch’s driver, who takes her to the city but refuses to take the package Mr. Aitch asked her to deliver. An old man meets her in the city and takes her to the baseball stadium, where he says Makina will be able to deliver the package. On the way, the old man tells Makina news of her brother and gives her his address. He tells her that he himself feels no connection to the country and is “just passing through,” although he has been there for fifty years. At the stadium, Mr. P arrives to take the package from Makina. He suggests that she should come and work for him, but she tells him she is only there to find her brother.

Makina’s brother lives in another city, but there seems to be no division between the city in which she finds herself and the one to which she is traveling. Everywhere is city, and everywhere is the same. It is sunset by the time she reaches the address that the old man gave her, and when she does so, she finds nothing but machines digging an enormous hole.

Makina spends a freezing cold night sheltering in an ATM booth before trying to find more information about her brother. She runs into the young man who harassed her and whose finger she twisted on the bus, and he introduces her to a woman who knew her brother and gives her a new address for him. She goes to the house, which is large and pink and inhabited by a Black man, who apologizes ironically for not being the color Makina clearly expected. He tells her that the former occupants have moved overseas. However, one of the family is still in the country, serving in the military at a nearby army base.

Makina arrives at the base, where a soldier comes out to talk to her. She is amazed to find that this is not one of the family who lived in the pink house, but actually her brother. He explains that the son of the family joined the army and the two men later swapped identities so that he would not have to serve. Having finished his story, and confessed that he has no idea what to do with his life, he gives Makina some money for her return journey, a dismissive gesture which upsets her. After he has left her, Makina remembers that she never delivered the letter from her mother, so she opens it and reads it herself. The letter says: “Come on back now, we don’t expect anything from you.”

After her departure from the army base, Makina is accosted by a police officer who harangues her and a group of other Mexicans for failing to be civilized. One man has a book of poems, and the officer tears a page out of it and tells him to write a confession of his crimes. Instead, Makina writes a sarcastic note on the paper, pointing out the officer’s racism. He is so surprised that he sets them all free, and Makina rushes away before the men have a chance to thank her.

In a park, Makina encounters Chucho, who leads her through the city streets to a building in which she finds a group of people smoking. A man comes up to her and hands her a file, in which are all the details of a new identity which has been created for her. She reflects on her old life in Mexico, then decides to embrace a new life in the north, telling herself: “I’m ready.”

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