No Telephone to Heaven Essay - Critical Essays

Michelle Cliff


As is the case with all great works of literature, in No Telephone to Heaven, style and content are perfectly wedded. The novel’s structure moves back and forth in time, from here to there in place, but not in an orderly fashion as in a nineteenth century historical novel; rather, little or no transition is provided between events occurring in different places and times, imparting a sense of randomness and chaos to the lives depicted. This is the author’s intention. Clare is unable to establish an identity, to locate herself in a political and economic power structure that too often considers her, her gender, and her race only marginally valuable at best and at worst expendable, a nuisance to be eliminated as surely as Clare and her fellow guerillas are slaughtered in the novel’s apocalyptic conclusion. Closer analysis shows that the events are not at all random. Each scene, each character in some way comments on the world’s condition or offers a possible option for Clare in her life.

Clare’s grandmother, for example, is present only in Clare’s memory, yet she is a crucial point of reference for Clare and the reader. It was the grandmother who owned the country estate that Clare fondly recalls visiting in her childhood. Yet the grandmother and her estate are more than just a happy remembrance; they represent a time when a woman—and a black woman at that—could own property, be an important part of the economic power structure of her society, and thereby have control over her own destiny. The laws in the present do not expressly forbid such independence; rather, as a poor, Third World country exploited by the industrialized world, Jamaica finds itself subservient, virtually helpless. Within Jamaican society, the dark-skinned are subservient to the lighter-skinned, and women are the most subservient of all. The author makes it clear that...

(The entire section is 766 words.)