Form and Content
Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven dramatizes a woman’s, a generation’s, and ultimately a whole culture’s struggle toward identity and self-determination in a world that seems too often to conspire against these fundamental human aspirations. The movement is “toward” rather than “to” because the author’s grim vision does not allow for a happy ending in which all turns out well. In overview, the novel’s structure may appear nearly chaotic, jumping as it does back and forth between past and present and from one country and continent to another. Yet the near-chaos is appropriate to the characterization and theme, reflecting Clare Savage’s confused sense of her personal, sexual, and ethnic identity.
As do several, though not all, of the novel’s eleven chapters, the first chapter, “Ruinate,” opens with a scene involving a number of young men and women aboard a truck, traveling toward a destination that the reader will not discover until the very end of the novel. Among them is Clare, whose grandmother once owned the estate upon which the young people apparently live in some sort of communal enterprise. Eventually, it becomes apparent that they are political activists—or, more properly, guerillas—and that they are setting out on a mission whose end, the reader might very well guess, will be violent. It is the truck which bears the slogan “No Telephone to Heaven,” a comment painted on its side by a despairing former owner. The slogan turns out to be sadly prophetic for the group, which is ambushed by what seem to be government forces. One wonders, however, what Clare—product of a family that was apparently...
(The entire section is 679 words.)