No Telephone to Heaven

by Michelle Cliff

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What is the problem of identity in this novel?

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All the characters in this novel are concerned with finding their identity, but they go about this in different ways. The author delves into the relationships that each individual has to the groups to which they belong as well as to the categories to which others assign them. In all these regards, Cliff's examination of identity shows its complexity, rather than addressing it as a singular problem. Among the primary identities that concern the characters are gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality, and political stance, along with their roles within their families.

Clare’s identity depends on her place of residence. While she is likely to be understood as an individual within her home country of Jamaica, her national identity becomes more significant when she is living overseas in England or the United States. Although the racial dimensions of identity are significant in Jamaica, the ways people understand racial hierarchies are also different in the other, predominantly white nations where she lives. The ambiguities of racial identity are perhaps best exemplified by her father, Boy, who passes as white. Clare also tries to understand her personal identity in terms of her potential achievements, comparing her situation to that of her mother, Kitty, and other women of the older generation. As Clare finds that living abroad heightens her sense of Jamaicanness, she returns committed to achieving radical social change—a move that ultimately forces her consider how far she can endorse the use of violence in enacting such change.

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