Thursday, February 23, 2012

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, inpersonal and demeaning approach to his confession. On hearing her reply, her voice strikes the man as that of a 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?" Soyinka choosing to use capital letters to capture the woman's speech, perhaps trying to convey the pure simplicty of her thought process. Dumbfounded by the woman's reply, the man is left in silence, and the woman pursues her inquiry (ironic as it is the man who phoned to inquire) in to the colour of the man, as she says, "...LIGHT OR VERY DARK?" The man is shocked by this simplistic approach, Soyinka 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 colour of the booth, the pillar-box and the double tiered omnibus; all red. This focus on colour also refers to the racism being portrayed in the poem. Soyinka 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 roundabout 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 himself, trying to simplify it for her yet continuing in a higher register than her own, telling her that his face is "brunette", his hands and and feet are a "peroxide blond" and his bottom is "raven black", the latter adding to his sense of anger at her as he insults her simple mindedness and her desire to categorize him. The Landlady, discontented with the man's answer and still unaware of the irony and the man's insult, hangs up the phone. With an empty telephone line the man pleads to her sense of decency "Wouldn't you rather see for yourself?" leaving his question unto the reader.

Chevlyn Fernandes

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