No Telephone to Heaven

by Michelle Cliff
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How are the migrations by the characters transformative?

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Clare Savage, in particular, undergoes numerous transformations through the course of the novel. For her, “migration” seems to be the permanent state of alienated exile that characterizes the modern fictional protagonist. Her physical relocation is embedded in her emotional and psychological displacement, stemming from racial and gendered inequality. Michelle Cliff' provides suspense that makes the reader wonder how Clare got from her family’s estate to the activist’s truck. In efforts to escape her African Jamaican enslaved heritage, Clare’s moves to the United States and England ironically bring her back to a more intimate knowledge of her self and commitment to her own country.

For Boy, Clare’s father, as well, life in Jamaica is unfulfilling. Imagining that equality might triumph over racism in the United States, he uproots his family and moves to New York. As a light-skinned black man, he makes a fateful decision to pass as white, rejecting his own heritage. In this regard, migration led to a transformation from integrity to hypocrisy. Although Kitty, his wife and Clare’s mother, agrees to the New York move, she is more attuned to the discrimination they face, and returns to Jamaica.

For Harry/Harriet, a figurative “migration” could be indicated by their gender transformation, with her decision to acknowledge her female identity. Paul and Christopher, who remain in Jamaica, are in most ways unchanging. They are portrayed as such diametrical opposites that they may well be character doubles; the rich murder victim and the poor murderer are inextricably bound together, the author implies, by the rigid social system. For them, only an apocalyptic end is available, and Paul’s transformation is from alive to dead.

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