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Commentary On Telephone Conversation By Wole Soyinka

476 words - 2 pages

Commentary on Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka recollects vividly in Ake Mrs. Huti talking about white
racism. He was thus mentally prepared to cope with the racism before
he left for England. The race problem which has been treated with
levity in the immigrant poems is treated from the poet’s personal
experience in “Telephone Conversation.”

“Telephone Conversation” involves an exchange between the black
speaker and a white landlady. This poem more than any other is
enriched by Soyinka’s experience of drama. It appears that the speaker
is so fluent in the landlady’s language that she is unable to make out
that he is black and a foreigner. But he, knowing the society for its
racial prejudice, deems it necessary to declare his racial identity
rather than be rejected later when she discovers that he is black.
When he tells her that he is African, she seems stunned and there is
“Silenced transmission of/Pressurized good-breeding.” When she speaks,
her voice is

Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled

Cigarette-holder pipped.

These details are evidence of her sophistication, affectation, and
artificiality. The poet establishes the lady’s social status so as to
make her mental attitudes ironic.

The landlady asks the speaker, “HOW DARK?” which he is at first too
confused to answer: “Surrender pushed dumbfoundment to
simplification.” He suspects that she is trying to humiliate him
because “Her accent was clinical, crushing in its
light/Impersonality.” The alliterative verse musically represents the
sense of crushing. The man prepares himself for a verbal confrontation
and replies, “West African sepia.” The landlady seems confused over
the shade of darkness and becomes silent , an interval described as

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