Title

The Great Biracial Divide and Connection: Magical Realism and Identity in Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff

Subject Area

Minorities and Multicultural Issues

Abstract

The idea of a benefactor captured her—and she wondered who her

benefactor would be . . . . The Black or the white. Both perhaps. Her

father told her she was white. But she knew her mother was not. Who

would she choose where she given a choice . . . . She was of both dark

and light. Pale and deeply colored . . . . Would her alliances shift at any

given time. The Black or the white? A choice would be expected of her,

she thought. (Cliff, Abeng 37).

My proposal analyzes biraciality and magical realism in Michelle Cliff’s novel Abeng and the sequel No Telephone in Heaven. Set mostly in Jamaica, twelve-year-old Clare Savage navigates between the worlds of blackness and whiteness represented by Clare’s biracial parents. Because her dad is mostly white, he exists more in the white world and represents European colonialism and it’s rigid societal and economic influence pushed upon blacks living on the Caribbean island. On the other hand, Clare’s mom symbolizes blacks with their supernatural connection to nature and each other, which of course is derived from the African slaves who brought their culture from their homeland. Both novels demonstrate how Clare navigates between these two distinct worlds.

The one thing that connects these opposite frameworks is magical realism. Magical realism is a literary mode that combines reality and the supernatural exemplified by the examples of blackness and whiteness with regards to Clare’s parents against the backdrop of the past, present, and future of the overall Jamaican culture. However, even though magical realism sets up the binary of these contradicting ideas and undercuts them through Clare’s changing viewpoints of her identity and coming of age to adulthood. Does she have to choose sides? Can she exist simultaneously in both worlds and live in the space that connects them? These are the main questions that both works try to answer.

In closing, by filtering through a magical real lens Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven not only describes how one young girl navigates her identity and her place in Jamaican society and the world at large, it describes issues many people worldwide face regardless of ancestry despite varying socio-economic and historical cultures. We all have to answer the question: “Who am I?” at some point in our lives. In this instance, magical realism helps to answer that question and many more.

Brief Bio Note

Dr. Devona Mallory is currently an Associate Professor of English at Albany State University in Albany, GA. Her research primarily analyzes the links between Magical Realism, Women's Literature/Studies, and Multiethnic Literature. Previously, some of Dr. Mallory's works have appeared in the Journal of Literature and Art and New Essays on Phillis Wheatley, Meeting Points in Black/Africana Women’s Literature, and Writing the Harlem Renaissance. Besides teaching and research, Dr. Mallory is the Chair of the ASU Gender Studies Committee that puts on the annual ASU Women’s Studies Symposium and the Director of Strengthening Foreign Language and International Programs.

Keywords

Caribbean Literature, Multiethnic/Multicutural Literature, Women’s Literature/Gender Studies, Magical Realism Literature, Colonial/Postcolonial Studies, Cultural Studies

Location

Room 218/220

Presentation Year

2018

Start Date

4-5-2018 9:30 AM

Embargo

11-22-2017

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Apr 5th, 9:30 AM

The Great Biracial Divide and Connection: Magical Realism and Identity in Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff

Room 218/220

The idea of a benefactor captured her—and she wondered who her

benefactor would be . . . . The Black or the white. Both perhaps. Her

father told her she was white. But she knew her mother was not. Who

would she choose where she given a choice . . . . She was of both dark

and light. Pale and deeply colored . . . . Would her alliances shift at any

given time. The Black or the white? A choice would be expected of her,

she thought. (Cliff, Abeng 37).

My proposal analyzes biraciality and magical realism in Michelle Cliff’s novel Abeng and the sequel No Telephone in Heaven. Set mostly in Jamaica, twelve-year-old Clare Savage navigates between the worlds of blackness and whiteness represented by Clare’s biracial parents. Because her dad is mostly white, he exists more in the white world and represents European colonialism and it’s rigid societal and economic influence pushed upon blacks living on the Caribbean island. On the other hand, Clare’s mom symbolizes blacks with their supernatural connection to nature and each other, which of course is derived from the African slaves who brought their culture from their homeland. Both novels demonstrate how Clare navigates between these two distinct worlds.

The one thing that connects these opposite frameworks is magical realism. Magical realism is a literary mode that combines reality and the supernatural exemplified by the examples of blackness and whiteness with regards to Clare’s parents against the backdrop of the past, present, and future of the overall Jamaican culture. However, even though magical realism sets up the binary of these contradicting ideas and undercuts them through Clare’s changing viewpoints of her identity and coming of age to adulthood. Does she have to choose sides? Can she exist simultaneously in both worlds and live in the space that connects them? These are the main questions that both works try to answer.

In closing, by filtering through a magical real lens Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven not only describes how one young girl navigates her identity and her place in Jamaican society and the world at large, it describes issues many people worldwide face regardless of ancestry despite varying socio-economic and historical cultures. We all have to answer the question: “Who am I?” at some point in our lives. In this instance, magical realism helps to answer that question and many more.