Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World
Why does Herrera Use Vague, Non-specific Names for Towns, Countries, and Languages, and What Might this have to do with the theme of Migration?
Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World stands out as a masterpiece that figures out how to investigate dialect in an amazing way by recounting a convincing story with interesting characters. It starts with an astounding opening: “I’m dead, Makina said to herself when everything reeled” (Herrera 2). Herrera quickly moves the audience into the mythic world of life and death. Step by step, more solid insights about Makina and her life develop. Makina lives in Mexico and works at a telephone company. This occupation and her dispatch assignments position her between substances attempting to locate her own personality. As a result, she trusts herself to be pliant, erasable, and penetrable like a delegate tongue that different characters use, probably a dialect that blends Spanish and English. “She ran the switchboard with the only phone for miles and miles around. It rang, she answered, they asked for so and so, she said I’ll go get them, call back in a bit and your person will pick up, or I’ll tell you what time you can find them. Sometimes they called from nearby villages and she answered them in native tongue or latin tongue. Sometimes, more and more these days, they called from the North; these were the ones who’d often already forgotten the local lingo, so she responded to them in their own new tongue. Makina spoke all three, and knew how to keep quiet in all three, too” (Herrera 8). Herrera collates Makina to dialect itself and personalizes language. Makina’s mother and a family companion named Mr. Aitch send her on a trip to America with a message and a secret bundle. Because Herrera wants to represent the theme of migration in his own words and connect with readers at a personal level, he uses vague and non-specific names for towns, countries, and languages.
The novel is separated into nine areas, The Earth, The Water Crossing, The Place Where Hills Meet, The Place Where the Wind Cuts like a Knife, The Obsidian Mound, The Place Where Flags Wave, The Snake That Lies in Wait, The Place Where People’s Hearts Are Eaten, and The Obsidian Place without any Windows or Holes for the Smoke. It is important to note that the author uses descriptions of places in the chapter titles to represent a town or a country instead of saying it directly. These areas are borrowed from the nine levels of the underworld found in norse mythology: Earth, river and Yellow Dog, Two Mountains, Obsidian Mountain, Bitter Wind, Banners, Arrows, Wild Beast, Narrow Place, and Soul at Rest. Herrera likewise mentions Odysseus and Orpheus to create mystery and give the novel an extraordinary flow. By referencing these words, the author comes up with both a mythic tone and primeval pre-dialect which delineates Makina’s trip as one of sensation. The creator unequivocally declines to mention the geographical areas by their names. The impact of this unclearness creates a fundamental world for Makina’s reality and gives rise to a feeling of straightforwardness for the audience.
Makina’s excursion is an etymological one. Herrera distinctly suggests Makina’s capacity to talk a few Spanish lingos next to ‘anglo’ (the writer never uses the word English), but when Makina arrives in America she experiences another dialect used by Mexican foreigners which Makina describes as a ‘middle person tongue’ that is ‘an indistinct domain between what ceases to exist and what is yet to be conceived’. “Makina senses in their tongue not a sudden absence but a shrewd metamorphosis, a self-defensive shift. They might be talking in perfect latin tongue and without warning begin to talk in perfect anglo tongue and keep it up like that, alternating between a thing that believes itself to be perfect and a thing that believes itself to be perfect, morphing back and forth between two beasts until out of carelessness or clear intent they suddenly stop switching tongues and start speaking that other one” (Herrera 42). This new dialect imitates the migrants’ changeable qualities – a key advantage for their survival in an often antagonistic condition. The significance of adjusting to the dialect of an outsider land is stressed by Herrera’s depiction of a cop yelling stereotypical jargon at a gathering of Mexican migrants: “Ha, said the cop after glancing at it. Poetry. Lookie here at the educated worker, comes with no money, no papers, but hey, poems. You a romantic? A poet? A writer? Looks like we’re going to find out” (Herrera 64). As Herrera builds an abnormal dreamlike world brimming with both threat and magnificence, he attracts the audience with a profoundly deep feeling of depiction. At a certain point in the story, the sky starts obscuring like a goliath pool of drying blood. The examination inspires a feeling of savagery that intensifies the threat inalienable in Herrera’s subjects: moving across the Mexico/US borderline and worldwide human bad form. At another point, Herrera describes the weather in an unusual way, “It hadn’t fully dawned yet – the sky was barely a reddish exhalation that hadn’t quite made up its mind to spread over the earth – but by this time the people who might have information for her were already back in the hustle and bustle” (Herrera 48). In these portrayals, Herrera utilizes another vocabulary about a characteristic component that joins every individual and rises above contrasts of nation or dialect. These descriptive words of places and give the story life and arouse interest in the reader.
Extraordinary thought is likewise paid to Herrera’s utilization of the Spanish neologism jarchar (to leave) – borrowed from the Mozarabic dialect. The choice to stay faithful to the trustworthiness of the Spanish dialect may at first seem bewildering. In any case, this inclination is simply short lived. Like a non-native in a nation without the foggiest idea about the dialect, the audience adapts rapidly to the utilization of such decision phrases. Additionally, the audience can start to comprehend the inspirations driving the decisions of the interpreter. The more prominent longer-enduring impact is to imagine oneself as an explorer in Makina’s place. The trip must be attempted and by one means or another, through dialect, a way should be found.
In sum, Herrera uses indirect words to describe places and languages as a way to directly engage the audience and immerse them in the story. A good example is whereby the author describes the chapters in the book using very common words like the place where hills meet to explain a geographical location. Herrera also refers to English as Anglo. Using such words creates a sense of mystery and intrigue for the audience. Finally, the author occasionally uses Spanish words to spark interest in the reader and engage them in a chase. The audience is forced to go into an imaginary journey as they read the book and try to find meaning to such phrases.
Herrera, Yuri. Signs Preceding the End of the World. And Other Stories, 2015.