Telephone conversation is about an African man who wishes to rent an apartment and so has phoned the landlady to inquire. Once the landlady answers the man decides he must confess, as if he has committed a crime, about his nationality as the persona in the poem is well aware of the wide spread prejudice against people of African descent and feels he must get the fact out of the way. However, unaware of the extent of the landlady's ignorance, he is shocked and annoyed by her cold, impersonal and demeaning approach to his confession. On hearing her reply, her voice strikes the man as that of a pretentious snob, describing the voice as "Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled/Cigarette-holder pipped". The landlady, concerned by this information placed in front of her, replies, bluntly, "HOW DARK?" the poet chooses to use capital letters to capture the woman's speech, perhaps trying to convey the pure simplicity of her thought process. Dumbfounded by the woman's reply, the man is left in silence, and the woman pursues her inquiry as she says, "...LIGHT OR VERY DARK?" The man is shocked by this simplistic approach, the poet comparing it to the buttons in the telephone box "Button A. Button B". We are made aware of his anger as he refers to the color of the booth, the pillar-box and the double tiered omnibus; all red. This focus on color also refers to the racism being portrayed in the poem. The poet humorously uses sarcasm as he says 'Shamed/By ill mannered silence" when it is obvious that is the woman who is the ill mannered of the two. The woman repeats her question, as she had done previously and the man replies cryptically, "West African Sepia", aware that the woman is oblivious to such detail and vocabulary, and this creates humorous irony, as it is her who is treating the man as a lower being yet he confuses her with his intelligence: she wants a simplistic 'black and white' answer. The man, with the woman still confused, sarcastically continues to describe...
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