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Choosing: Passing or Resistance

December 6, 2009

Choosing: Passing or resistance

By Denise Scammon

While living in America with her light-skinned father, protagonist Clare Savage, of Michelle Cliff’s novel, No Telephone to Heaven, comes to the realization that for her to pass as white means to denounce her mother’s black heritage. The reader gets glimpses of the slowly building solidarity between Savage and her mother’s heritage, such as when her father declares her as white when enrolling her in school in America. On another occasion, she becomes engrossed with why people can not understand that the differences between classes, races and religions often lead to violence, such as church bombings. Instances of differences such as these reveal the dual identities that Savage harbors – one of her father’s whiteness and one of her mother’s creole Caribbean heritage. Savage’s choice to ultimately join the resistance movement as a black woman is foreshadowed midway through the novel when the reader learns that her father is fearful of her attachment to her mother’s heritage and “Should a newscast refer to the ‘burgeoning civil rights movement,’ her father took care to distract her…. Not realizing his daughter could hold two things in her mind at once” (103). Woven throughout the novel are bits and pieces of background information that link Savage to both her mother and her grandmother. The mother’s reminders, in letters to Savage, that she “never forget who your people are” (103). The inheritance of her grandmother’s land. Both of these instances offer Savage the opportunity to return to Jamaica to live as a creole hybrid among people oppressed by a postcolonial culture in which skin color means the difference between power and servitude. The novel opens in medias res leaving the reader to piece together the importance of the opening scene which is revealed at the end of the novel.

Question: What are Clare Savage’s objectives in joining the guerrilla group? From the information given to the reader, is joining the guerrilla group a believable move for Savage to make?

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