Signs Preceding the End of the World

by

Yuri Herrera

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The Telephone Switchboard Symbol Analysis

The Telephone Switchboard Symbol Icon

At home in the Village, Makina works at the telephone switchboard, which is “the only phone for miles,” receiving incoming calls and connecting their dialers with the locals they wish to contact. The people in her rural village would be unable to communicate were it not for Makina’s efforts, and the switchboard thus represents the possibility of people finding common ground despite the linguistic and geographical barriers that separate them, as well as Makina’s literal and figurative role as an intermediary figure among these disparate groups of people. It is also a symbol of tradition—while the rest of the modern world has transitioned to mobile phones and cell towers, the switchboard remains a staple in this insular community. Its enduring importance for the villagers reflects the stark contrast between the impersonal, fast-paced culture of the U.S. and the intimate, close-knit communities that make up rural Mexico. The switchboard, which allows Makina to translate among English, Spanish, and the local Indigenous language, thus represents the strong sense of duty Makina feels to preserve her village’s unique culture and facilitate the relationships that keep it alive: she has to return to keep everyone in touch, because “only she spoke all three tongues and only she had mastered the poker face for bad news and the nonchalance with which certain names, oh, so long yearned for, had to be pronounced.”

The Telephone Switchboard Quotes in Signs Preceding the End of the World

The Signs Preceding the End of the World quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Telephone Switchboard. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the And Other Stories edition of Signs Preceding the End of the World published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Makina
Related Symbols: The Telephone Switchboard
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Telephone Switchboard Symbol Timeline in Signs Preceding the End of the World

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Telephone Switchboard appears in Signs Preceding the End of the World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Earth
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...believes, which is “why she was respected in the Village.” She operates the Village’s only telephone switchboard , answering calls and fetching the residents so they can receive them. She has to... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Water Crossing
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Whenever she visits “the Big Chilango,” Makina travels underground, by the subway trains. Otherwise she risks “get[ting] lost or captivated” in the city—she is... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Obsidian Mound
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
...out [the window] without seeing” and reminds herself that she needs to return home to the switchboard , to help everyone who needs to “communicat[e] with their kith and kin.” (full context)
Chapter 6: The Place Where Flags Wave
Immigration, Myth, and Identity Theme Icon
Family, Heritage, and Sense of Self Theme Icon
...will happen to each family in the future. Makina remembers mediating between quarrelling lovers at the switchboard , relaying their messages back and forth and softening their harsh words, which eventually helped... (full context)