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Commentary on Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka

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Commentary on Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka Wole Soyinka recollects vividly in Ake Mrs. Huti talking about white racism. He was thus mentally prepared to cope with the racism before he left for England. The race problem which has been treated with levity in the immigrant poems is treated from the poet's personal experience in "Telephone Conversation." "Telephone Conversation" involves an exchange between the black speaker and a white landlady. This poem more than any other is enriched by Soyinka's experience of drama. It appears that the speaker is so fluent in the landlady's language that she is unable to make out that he is black and a foreigner. ...read more.


The landlady asks the speaker, "HOW DARK?" which he is at first too confused to answer: "Surrender pushed dumbfoundment to simplification." He suspects that she is trying to humiliate him because "Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light/Impersonality." The alliterative verse musically represents the sense of crushing. The man prepares himself for a verbal confrontation and replies, "West African sepia." The landlady seems confused over the shade of darkness and becomes silent , an interval described as "Silence for spectroscopic flight of fancy"; and admits "DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT IS." He explains, "Like brunette," which the landlady conceives as dark, but for the speaker, "Not altogether," The poem ends as the speaker elaborates on the diverse colours that make up his body, a display which apparently exasperates the lady and makes her drop the receiver. ...read more.


There is an abundance of descriptive epithets ranging from "indifferent," "silenced," through "pressurized," "lipstick coated," "long goldrolled/Cigarette-holder pipped" to "rancid," "clinical," "light," and "peroxide." The speaker's own bottom is "raven black." The dramatic exchange relies on wit, humour, irony, hyperbole, compound words, scientific vocabulary, closely-knit expression, suggestiveness, and dialogue interspersed with narration and comments. The speaker is highly versatile in his expression. The poet successfully debunks colour discrimination in society and, indirectly through the speaker's performance in the exchanges, extols the individuality of human beings in spite of colour differences. The voice and viewpoint are influenced by the environment, poetic aims, and techniques of the poet. The voice in Soyinka's early poems is satirical, but light and playful, quite distinct from the voice in the later poems informed by harsh personal experiences and a national crisis. ...read more.

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