The Devil’s Highway Summary and Study Guide

Luis Alberto Urrea

The Devil’s Highway

  • 32-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 16 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis.
  • Written by a published author with a degree in English Literature
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The Devil’s Highway Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 32-page guide for “The Devil’s Highway” by Luis Alberto Urrea includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 16 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Desperation and Immigration.

Plot Summary

The Devil’s Highway is a saddening narrative about the real-life perils of Mexican immigration. Specifically, journalist Luis Alberto Urrea chronicles the devastating journey of a group of men as they attempted to cross the U.S. border in May of 2001 by way of the deadliest region, the aptly named Devil’s Highway in Arizona. Urrea is quick to point out that Devil’s Highway is a veritable death sentence, so much so that the Border Patrol does not even travel through this section of the desert. For the men involved in the 2001 attempt, only twelve survived the ordeal out of the twenty-six men who began the attempt, marking this particular event as the largest group of border-crossing deaths in history.

As a journalist, Urrea uses his investigative trade, as well as a bright spotlight on the humanity lost, by outlining the physical and mental trials of the men seeking to enter the U.S. by way of the Devil’s Highway. Urrea delves deep and focuses on the specifics, thus painting a larger picture of United States-Mexico relations and U.S. immigration concerns by way of individual stories. By doing so, the reader can get a different view of the perils facing those who make the decision to cross the border illegally. For many, like the Wellstone 26 that were reduced to a mere twelve survivors, they are willing to face death to achieve their dreams of a better life.

Though the payoff might not seem worth it to readers, Urrea again looks into the lives and trials of the men attempting the journey, showing how the state of their current lives pointed them toward the deadly highway and an attempt at freedom. Most cannot earn enough to eat, let alone survive. Based on this fact, items some readers might take for granted, such as shelter, clothing and education, are hard to come by, if not impossible to access, for many of the people who decide to cross the border. These bleak circumstances are indeed what propelled the twenty-six men to set out on that historic day in 2001.

Urrea’s investigative touch hits on each illegal immigrant, showing them as more than a statistic or “illegal alien.” By showing the towns they came from, and by fleshing out their dreams for a better life, Urrea attempts to uphold their lives and dreams, and to show how this type of tragedy will not be an isolated event so long as needs are not being met and people are susceptible to exploitation and false hope.

Urrea focuses too on the exploitation of illegal immigrants by also recounting the role of their guides, or Coyotes, as they are known. The guides are set on getting ahead in life as well, and the wellbeing of the people they are supposed to be serving is not always in their best interest or in their thoughts. For the illegal immigrants, known as the Walkers, they must place all of their trust in these guides, meaning that an event like the one Urrea is recounting is bound to happen again and again.

Urrea also delves into Mexico’s past to show origin stories and sources of hope and inspiration for Mexican people. Topics like Spanish explorers, missionaries, human trafficking, and Native American tribes are all brushed upon to shed light on a storied past. It is this rich, complex history that many illegal immigrants hold on to in their hopes and dreams for a brighter future. And yet it is also this susceptibility to hope that pits the desperation of these illegal immigrants against the “any means necessary” approach of their guides. The horrific deaths that mark this event are deaths that arose from desperation and confusion on the part of the Walkers, from negligence on the part of the Coyotes, and from the sheer brutality of the Devil’s Highway in the Arizona desert. Though it might defy belief, Urrea’s retelling seeks to ground belief in facts and experience, thus attempting to ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 733 words. Click below to download the full study guide for The Devil’s Highway.

Chapters 1–3