In the poem “Telephone Conversation” the theme that the poem is focused on is racism. Even when the person is not physically in front of him, the issue of race is still apart of how a person communicates with one another. When the writer talks about how the African man is colored he uses a lot of imagery and he wants the reader to get a good mental image of the man on the telephone. He uses words like sepia to describes the reddish brown color of his skin. What does this show the reader about the writer and what he wants to get across? Soyinka uses phrases like “I am African” to tell the reader right off that the poem will be something about race. Do you think this was a good approach when trying to grab the reader’s attention? I believe that no matter where you are in the world that racism exists everywhere, whether you live in America or you live on the other side of the world. What do you think about this issue? Do you think it exist in other places other than America? The writer also describes the landlady’s voice as “lipstick-coated, long gold-rolled cigarette-holder pipped” what does this description tell you about the landlady’s personality or attitude towards the African man?


"Telephone Conversation"
By: Wole Soyinka

The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. "Madam," I warned,
"I hate a wasted journey—I am African."
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was foully.
"HOW DARK?" . . . I had not misheard . . . "ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?" Button B, Button A.* Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis--

"ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?" Revelation came.
"You mean--like plain or milk chocolate?"
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. "West African sepia"--and as afterthought,
"Down in my passport." Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. "WHAT'S THAT?" conceding
"DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT IS." "Like brunette."
"THAT'S DARK, ISN'T IT?" "Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but, madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blond. Friction, caused--
Foolishly, madam--by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black--One moment, madam!"--sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears--"Madam," I pleaded, "wouldn't you rather
See for yourself?"


Theme is something that bases the context that you are reading around something with a greater meaning or symbolic view. In the poem “Telephone Conversation” Soyinka uses the theme of racism to enhance the impact of the reader’s reaction to the poem. Do you think that the theme of this poem is something that is a problem in the world? Even though this poem is based on a man trying to get an apartment, the narrator wanted to create an issue to grab the reader’s attention and make them think about the issue of racism. In the beginning of the poem the woman or landlady on the other end of the phone asks “HOW DARK?…ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?”, how does this impact you as the reader? What kind of tone does the landlady have towards the African man? And how is this a clue to what the theme is? In the middle of the poem the narrator starts to talk about what is in the environment around the African man. He used things like “red booth”, “red pillar box”, and “red double-tiered omnibus squelching tar”. What is the “red” in all of these images symbolizing? As well as using symbolism and theme to attract the reader the narrator uses irony. He uses irony by saying things that normally wouldn’t be said to someone. For example, when the landlady asks questions like “how dark?” the African man says “I have not misheard”, this is ironic because the question being asked is so ignorant and narrow minded that the man has to make sure that he heard the question correctly. Do you think that the way irony is used in this poem is taken to a higher level than needed? why?

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    Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.


    June 2010



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