In ‘Telephone Conversation’ we have a telephone conversation between a black man who wants to rent a room, from a white woman. We see that society is ignorant and racist. ‘Prayer Before Birth’ is a poem addressed to God from the point of view of an unborn baby who is scared to go into society. They both have negative views of society.
In ‘Prayer Before Birth’ society is presented as scary. The narrator is pleading and says ‘I fear’. She (no gender is specified as it is meant to symbolize all of humanity) is scared of ‘blood baths’. This uses alliteration and it is a metaphor. This could stand for all the violence that exists in the world – wars, murder, pain etc. She is scared of all the ...view middle of the document...
Society … destroys emotions
‘Let them not make me a stone’ – ‘a thing with one face’ ‘freeze my humanity’
The speaker is also scared that society will destroy her emotions and begs God to ‘Let them not make me a stone’. This metaphor shows that she is scared that her emotions are going to be taken away from her – that she will become cold and hard, like a stone. This relates to other metaphors such as ‘cog in a machine’, which also makes people sound emotionless and cold. This idea of emotional coldness is emphasized when she asks for ‘strength against those who would freeze my humanity’. The word ‘humanity’ implies all that is good with a human being – such as love and compassion. However, if this is frozen, then this is taken away and she either becomes cold and emotionless, or the only emotions left are ones that could not be associated with ‘humanity’, such as violence and hatred, which are all presented in this vision of society. For me, the ending is particularly powerful, as the unborn child would rather be dead than be turned into a ‘stone’. This is emphasized by the short concluding line: ‘Otherwise kill me’. The one syllable words ‘kill me’ make her seemed resolute and determined.
Society is … racist
In ‘Telephone Conversation’ the speaker recounts a conversation between a black man and a white landlady, who is quite clearly racist. In this poem we see an example of some of the segregation in society (the ‘tall walls’ that separate people) that the speaker was scared of in ‘Prayer Before Birth’. We get an impression of racism in society when the land lady asks ‘”HOW DARK?”’. The capital letters imply that she is shouting, making her seem aggressive. She could also be shouting in some misguided belief that he does not understand English, feeding into the stereotypical belief in society at the time that black people were intellectually inferior. However, Soyinka cleverly dispels this myth, as her black speaker is clearly more educated than his white counterpart, using words like ‘sepia’ and ‘spectroscopic’. With these words we see different colours as being presented as beautiful and to be celebrated. However, the white lady can only see in terms of ‘”DARK”’ or ‘”VERY LIGHT”’. She seems to be in a very black and white world. In ‘Prayer Before Birth’ we also have the idea that difference is not celebrated, as everyone has to become an ‘automaton’ and a ‘cog in a machine’. However, ‘Telephone Conversation’ is more positive as there is a man dealing with racism, and despite feeling anger , (symbolised by the ‘red booth’ and the ‘Red pillar box’ – the red symbolizing anger), he does not act with violence, he acts with humour – ‘Friction, caused … My bottom [to turn] raven black’. This reaction would...