Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka

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Telephone conversation by Wole Soyinka is about, as the title suggests, a conversation over the telephone between two people – a West African man and a British landlady. The former was looking for a place to live in London. He felt that the ‘price seemed reasonable’ and the ‘location indifferent’ in the sense that it was impartial. The landlady claimed that she ‘lived off premises’ possibly indicating that it was a source of income for her. The poem is in free verse and appears like a conversation, like an active telegraphic dialogue. It is a poem that takes the support of irony to put across a point strongly, that is, absurdity of racism. The poet has taken this creative idea to convey his anger over how society gives undue importance to a man’s colour and not this culture or intellect. The opening lines of the poem introduce the theme which rests on the irony of the word ‘indifferent’. The speaker wants an apartment and in this regard he calls the landlady to speak to her. He finds the ‘price reasonable’ and the ‘location indifferent’. ‘Indifferent’ here possibly indicated ‘impartial’ to race and colour. The landlady emphatically says that she lives ‘off the premises’ – the apartment is a source of income for her. Everything seems alright and the speaker feels that he should tell the lady that he is an African. He does this to avoid ‘a wasted journey’ because he has an apprehension that when the lady sees him she might react negatively and reject him. Hence there is the need for this ‘self-confession’. He has not done any wrong that he should confess – yet he seems apologetic. The response to this self-confession is ironically a heavy silence – a pause – that transmuted ‘good breeding’ of the lady. She is possibly caught unawares. The African is too shocked and hurt to react immediately and therefore, the heavy silence is broken with questions – ‘How dark?’ and ’Are you light or very dark?’ She wants to know the colour of his skin. This was an absurd notion...
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