Literature is a rather complicated topic for study. This complexity comes even more difficult when the topic of race and identity is involved in literature. “No Telephone to Heaven” by Michelle Cliff is the piece of literature dealing with this topic, and the present paper will analyze it with the strong emphasis put on Claire, the protagonist of the novel, and the factors that influence her identity and racial belonging.
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To start with, it is necessary to state that the novel under consideration is the story about a Jamaican girl whose father was white and mother was black. In this aspect, the story is autobiographical to some extent, as Michelle Cliff’s parents belong to different races, and she experienced in reality what she writes about in her book. Thus, the conflict of races taking place in her own family influences Claire and forms her attitude towards race and social relations on the whole. Claire’s father was eager to be accepted as a white in the society and left his wife who claimed her African origin: “I am a white man. My ancestors owned sugar plantations” (Cliff, 1996). Drawing from this and looking at her mother’s suffering, Claire formed hatred towards oppressors of her race and, after some years of searching the way, decided to join the guerilla detachment fighting for Jamaican Independence.
Moreover, the background of Claire Savage also predetermined her identity and racial attitudes. From the early childhood, Claire remembered her teacher’s words telling her to search for the genuine knowledge and avoid the prejudice that might mislead her in her life, especially when the choice of identity was to be made: “He had warned them against false knowledge. That which was held in the minds and memories of old women” (Cliff, 1996). Thus, it was hard for Claire to identify her racial belonging and the concepts of her homeland, motherland, and foreign country. She first moved to the US with her father, then returned to Jamaica to join her mother, moved study to in the UK, and finally found peace for her mind in Jamaica as her only genuine motherland and homeland. In this aspect, Claire experienced the fighting of the concepts of wildness and tameness inside her.
As a result, Claire had to carry out two kinds of struggle. The first one was between her and the outside rivals of her race and ethnicity, while another one took place inside of her personality. Being a white woman meant for Claire a kind of tameness, as women of the white society were too subject to stereotyping, traditional social roles of domination attributed to men, and living in an artificial society. At the same time, being black meant freedom and belonging to some natural powers that allowed Claire to feel peaceful and happy. Her father, who played a considerable role in her life, did not support her in her search for identity but he did not prevent her from doing it: “You are too much like your mother for your own good” (Cliff, 1996).
So, to conclude it is necessary to state that Claire Savage went through the difficult path of identity formation and self-identification. Her pursuits of ethnicity and identity were influenced by her parents’ conflicts on this basis, her own experiences, and the outside situation in the world that Claire felt like a place where uncertainty is not allowed, and everyone has to identify him/herself and follow this identity.
Cliff, Michelle. No Telephone to Heaven. New York: Plume, 1996.