Wole Soyinka is a renowned African novelist and poet. Soyinka was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. “Telephone Conversation” is a simple and amusing poem. As the title suggests, it is a conversation over ‘phone between an African and a white lady who is the owner of the apartment in London. The narrator is looking for a rented apartment in London. In this poem, the poet is able to portray the hypocrisy and cold inhumanity of the white lady who rejects the African only because he is ‘black’. Thus the poem is a strong satire on racial prejudice.
The speaker of the poem is an African. He is well educated, cultured and willing to pay the rent demanded by the landlady. At first the white English land lady is very happy that a tenant has come to stay in her apartment. The location of the building is not good. But the African is not worried about it. For him, the rent is reasonable and the landlady promises that she is living in another place. Therefore the Nigerian is also very glad to get such an apartment in London City. But he has a big problem. His skin is black. So he is afraid whether the white lady likes him or not. The flora and fauna in Nature have different colours. The colour of the skin is not a problem for animals, birds and other objects in the world. The sky is blue, the rose is red, the oak is black, the crow is black, orange is yellow, there are black dogs and cows and here the colours are blessing and beautiful. Nature is blessed with all the colours given by God. But man hates man if his skin is not white. So the African confesses to the white lady that he is an African. It is a rude shock to the white lady as if “African” is a criminal. There is a prolong silence. This silence hurts the African. He is insulted. Humanity is insulted. After some time she asks politely ‘how dark he is’? She enquires whether he is light black.
She does not say that she does not want an African. Instead she asks again whether he is dark or very light. She uses two terms such as plain or milk chocolate to describe his dark skin. He tells her that he is “West African sepia in his passport”. Again there is a long silence. Her words were compared to stinking or polluted air because her words are poisonous.
Now the African knows that he will not get the apartment, because the landlady does not want a black man as her tenant. So the African tells her that the colour of his face is dark brown (brunette), but unfortunately certain parts of his body are very dark. The palm and sole of his feet are semi dark. But the bottom is raven black because of friction by sitting and requests her to see it by herself personally. At that moment the white lady knows that she is insulted by the African and she angrily puts the ‘receiver on the thunderclap. Thus the poem proves that it is the white people who believe in the colour prejudice are always insulted. The colour prejudice boomerangs upon the white people themselves!
Answer in a paragraph of not more than 100 words
1. Comment on the use of satire, irony, sarcasm, imagery and pun in this poem
“Telephone Conversation” is a vehement attack on racial discrimination. The poet uses various poetic devices such as satire, irony, sarcasm, imagery, pun, alliteration and assonance have been used to bring home to the reader the hypocrisy and racial discrimination of the white landlady. “Location indifferent”, Nothing remained but self-confession”, “Caught I was foully” are all used in ironical tone. The speaker very politely tells the English landlady over phone that he hated a wasted journey- he was an African is irony because he speaks that he is an African is like a crime.There is also pun here because African means a criminal. “Plain or milk chocolate” is also a pun.“Silence for spectroscopic flight of fancy” is an example for double alliteration of ‘s’ and ‘f’. The satirical poem reaches its climax with the words ‘wouldn’t you rather see for yourself?” shows the irony in judging people based on the colour of their skin.