What’s in an Epic?

If you have read Signs Proceeding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, you are familiar with most epics (minus the rhyme scheme). You might be asking yourself, why? Let’s see what’s in an epic and what Herrera has to offer in his novel.

Like I’ve said, if you’ve read the novel, you’ve read an epic. Don’t believe me? Read the following short synopsis:

Makina travels a dangerous journey crossing a torrential river, venturing into an unknown land where she searches for her brother in hopes to deliver a message.

Let’s replace Mikina with a made up Greek sounding name like Orthellus, and change the pronouns to male.

Orthellus travels a dangerous journey crossing a torrential river, venturing into an unknown land where he searches for his brother in hopes to deliver a message.

Can you already see the 8th century B.C. cover art of a half-naked man wrestling a giant



Herrera equates the same passion that comes from Greek epics into a story about a young woman named Makina who travels across the U.S. border in an effort to find her brother. Alongside this, we receive an insight that most would overlook: The immigrant who comes not for a better life.

In stories such as The Odyssey or The Inferno, the main character doesn’t travel to a location to stay there. They go through various conquests and face personal moral demons before they triumph in their goal. What makes Herrera’s novel so unique is that for one, the resilient hero is a woman, and two, it combats that the journey of a Mexican immigrant is often depicted as derogatory. Makina overcomes the celestial elements of borders (both physical and mental). Her presence alone in the Anglo populated world is a divine offense.

The diction Herrera uses further supports the idea of an epic.

“Suddenly the world turned cold and green and filled with invisible water monsters dragging her away from the rubber raft…” (39)

Similar to Virgil in The Inferno, Makina also has a guide into the new world. Chucho is described:

“Every muscle in his arms and neck seemed trained for something specific, something strenuous” (37)

While Makina is usually dismissive of men, she is attracted to Chucho’s being (this is the first time outside her brother that a man has a real name associated with him). This reinforces the idea of complementary elements in characters as found in legendary epics.

Herrera creates a character that compliments the duality of the environments and relates it to her persistence. By overcoming physical challenges paired with the emotionally draining pursuit of her brother, the author sets up the perfect recipe for an epic.

Image credited: https://littlelondontruths.wordpress.com/tag/musee-de-louvre/




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