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Transcript of Telephone Conversation
Born 13/7/1934 at Abeokuta, Western Nigeria
Nigerian playwright and political activist
Has written plays, poems, novels, memoirs and songs
Father was headmaster of the primary school so had access to many books
Studied at Govt. College in Ibadan (on a scholarship) and University of Leeds, England (1952)
During Civil War in Nigeria, Soyinka wrote an article to cease fire - arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the rebels & held political prisoner for 22 months until 1969
Awarded the Nobel Prize for Lit 1986 - first African author - dedicated prize to imprisoned Nelson Mandela
1994 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation) named Soyinka a Goodwill Ambassador for promotion of African culture, human rights & freedom of expression
Soyinka's political view can be seen clearly through his work
The fact that the poem is about a telephone conversation is very significant - without the telephone, the conversation wouldn't have taken place
The back and forth of "How black?" wouldn't have taken place face to face because the landlady would have refused outright
Used to make the racism clear and show how absurd it is
The man also compares himself to the telephone: "Button B. Button A." (line 2 in 2nd stanza). He has been reduced to the status of a machine and has been asked to chose which button he is.
Conversation on the telephone between a white lady and an African man. The man is in search of a new apartment. Instead of talking about the price and other important information about the apartment, they instead discuss the man's skin colour
Written in the 1960's
A free verse - no meter or rhyming scheme
First person POV
Subject matter: racism & prejudice
Deals with foul subject in comical manner
Comment on society and remains an universal message
"Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
"Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar."
This gives an image of a completely different woman to the one at the start of the poem
Just listening to the women's voice shows us that he thinks she is of a higher social class than him - she is socially speaking above him - indicated by her voice being "colourful"
"Considerate she was... light Impersonality."
Women rejecting the house to the man because of prejudiced notion that African's are savage and wild people
Idea discredited by the fact that throughout poem, man retains codes of formality (better manners and vocabulary than the women)
However, the man loses his cool at the end of the poem due to the landlady's insensitiveness
Repeated and exaggeration of the woman's good manners and sophistication is ironic
The landlady's tone is cold and almost aggresive which contradicts the man's description of her
She is a shallow and racist person who is extremely insensitive (asks crude questions)
Man feels ashamed and sorry
Ironic because he has no control over his skin colour
He warns the landlady instead of just informing her
Casts light on how ridiculous racism is
To modern Western thinkers, it seems comical that anyone should be submissive when they have done nothing wrong
Describes the man's frantic attempt to understand the situation
Gives an image that he is located in a public phone booth.
These are all things you might find in London in England where Soyinka was studying prior to him writing this poem. This leads to the thought that Telephone Conversation may be about a real conversation Soyinka had with his landlady.
Repetition of red creates an image of anger - one time in the whole poem that the man comes to openly showing his anger at the lady.
The man's use of high diction, quick wit and sarcasm shows that he is an intelligent person and not the savage the landlady assumes he his because of his skin colour.
"ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?... You mean like plain or milk chocolate" - this limited choice of words and simple comparison that the man uses shows that the women is not that intelligent even though she has a high economic status
He includes subtle meanings in his speech - such as the word "Indifferent" in the second line. Indifferent has 2 meanings. At first we think that it means that the apartment is neither good nor bad but on a second reading "indifferent" means unbiased and impartial so we assume the apartment is located in an impartial area. However, after reading further, we know the location is the exact opposite.
Key Techniques Used:
Sarcasm (comical conversation)
Objects (the telephone)
Language (verbal irony)
Why Soyinka used
Depict the absurdity of racism
Shows the ridiculousness of judging a man based on his skin colour
Type of poem: Free Verse
Tone: Sarcastic & comical
Subject matter: racism & prejudice
Irony: used to show that racism is ridiculous & you should not judge people based on their skin colour
The Telephone: without it, the conversation wouldn't have taken place - the landlady would have refused the man the apartment outright
Imagery: used to help the reader generate a picture in their mind of the lady and of where the conversation is taking place.
Language: used to show the education of the man to show that he is not the savage the landlady thinks he is
"...It was real!"
This sentence shows the reader that the man is surprised that he is experiencing racism in London
We know that the setting is London due to the previous sentence
London is considered to be a developed city in the Western World where equality and justice is supposed to be valued by all
So it is ironic that he is experiencing this harsh racism in an "equality minded city"
"Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy..."
At this point in the poem, the man begins to react to the landlady's comments
Double alliteration of s & f produces a special sound effect making the atmosphere spooky and illustrates the landlady's status - now feeling dumbfounded
A pause between words
The words themselves create an unexpected silence
Slows the pace of the poem down
The caesura emphasises the impact of the man's race being revealed to the landlady
"I hate a wasted journey
- I am African"
Emphasise the landlady's effort in seeking clarification about the man's skin colour which is irrelevant to the buying of an apartment
"... Nothing remained
Creates fast pace like a telephone conversation
Used by poets to trick the reader. Poets lead the reader to think one idea then on the next line give an idea that conflicts this. Like the example above