Analysis and Commentary of "Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka

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Analysis and Commentary of “Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka

This poem is about the perceptions, attitudes and problems between the black and white skinned people/races. In this short poem of a telephone conversation between a dark skinned West African and a British landlady, the writer, Wole Soyinka, effectively makes others aware of the prejudice and tantrums thrown by the whites to the blacks. This poem emphasises the racism and criticism of Whites against the Blacks.

In this poem, a West African person is talking to a White British landlady on a phone about house rent. According to him, the price seemed reasonable, but because of his dark skin, he had to inform her beforehand. What followed next is deep silence, as if the woman was in a terrible shock. Because of his confession, and also because of her stereotypical judgement, the woman shouted out and asked him in a loud voice, “HOW DARK? ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?” It sounded (and practically did) as if his skin colour had offended her. The vulgar question was shocking to the man in a bizarre way. She did not get satisfied from her question, and so she repeated the same question in an ill-mannered tone, “ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” What the woman “knows” is that all Africans are black, but this man’s skin colour was West African sepia, a colour similar to brunette. However, the woman, still ignoring his response, asked, “WHAT’S THAT? DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.”

Generalizing his skin colour, she presumed and accepted that brunette is still dark to her eyes. However, the man was determined to convince her the other way round. He told her that the palms of his hand, soles of his feet are a peroxide blonde. Despite his effort, the madam was prepared to close the line at his ears, even though the man pleaded, “Madam! Wouldn’t you see for yourself?”

The dialogue between the landlady and the man reveals a lot about the two characters, especially of the man. He is self-conscious and patient...
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