“I’ve been skinned,” speaks Makina, the heroine of Yuri Herrera’s novella Signs Preceding the End of the World, just moments before the book’s end. While this sentence may evoke a forced removal of one’s old self, it simultaneously suggests a shedding – a transformation necessary due to growth. By the end of her journey, Makina must shed.
Throughout this transformative process, Makina enters the Coatlicue State, or what Gloria Anzaldúa, Chicana writer and theorist, would call a “stage of denial.” In this state, the subconscious mind processes what the conscious mind is not ready to. Makina is a carrier – she carries messages across borders, whether they be physical, temporal, or cultural. As a messenger, she exists in a liminal third space. As she enters this journey which mirrors Quetzalcoatl’s journey to the underworld, she enters into the space between who she once was and who she is becoming – a transitional space, a space of contradictions and possibilities.
“…she tipped briefly into panic, she felt for a second – or for many seconds … – that the turmoil of so many new things crowding in on the old ones was more than she could take” (Herrera 106)
This space, however, is also one of pain, which leads to denial. This is why Makina enters into the Coatlicue State: “During this stage you denying everything, you repress things you don’t want to think… While you’re in this darkness underneath todo lo que está pasando (everything that is happening), your unconscious is processing it” (Anzaldúa).
Coatlicue is an Aztec goddess with a skirt and head of snakes, who represents both the womb (life) and the grave (death). She is a cycle. Makina must exit the Coatlicue state and so she figuratively sheds, calling into mind a shedding snake, as she exits the in-between space which she has occupied. She receives a new identity, “with another name, another birthplace … [a] new home” (Herrera 106).
“…but a second – or many – later she stopped feeling the weight of uncertainty and guilt; she thought back to her people as though recalling the contours of a lovely landscape that was now fading away … and she saw what was happening was not a cataclysm; she understood with all of her body and all of her memory, she truly understood…” (Herrera, 107).
Makina’s shedding is an exiting of the Coatlicue State. At the end of the novel, she has worked through the import of her subconscious mind and emerged from her journey anew, a rebirth in death.