Wole Soyinka Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

Consider the narrator's experience in "Telephone Conversation" and answer how the poem urges readers to think about racial prejudice.   "Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka. In what way does the poem urge us to think about racial prejudices?

Expert Answers info

Steph Müller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write986 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Business, and Social Sciences

Simply put, the narrator in Soyinka's "telephone conversation" is looking for a place to live—that is the "experience." This experience is tainted by his foreknowledge that the color of his skin is likely to be a problem for his prospective landlady.

The poem emphasizes the ridiculousness of racial prejudice by means of the very strange question that is asked by the woman on the other end of the phone. Upon the narrator revealing that he is black, the woman showcases her aversion to dark skin by asking if he was "light or very dark."

In response, the narrator explains to readers of the poem that his body is not monochrome—that some parts of him, such as the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet—are far "whiter" than other parts of him.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write5,917 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

"Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka urges readers to think about racial prejudice from several perosnal perspectives that for some readers are unfamiliar territory while for other readers they are a shared territory of experience. Firstly, the fact that the conversation is set in England ("public hide-and-speak. / Red booth. Red pillar-box.") removes the conversation out of the familiar landscape of racial discussion for American, Canadian and African readers (for any reader not in the UK).

The fact that the conversation is conducted at a public pay phone and neither at home nor in person, adds a feeling of intimacy: the reader is privy to a cloistered and private moment rendering the poetic speaker's emotions and reactions all the more powerful and authentic.

That the poetic speaker is forced by the "Lipstick coated ... / Cigarette-holder" to qualify the darkness or lightness of his skin opens an internal perspective of self-examinatioin and -evaluation that is rarely revealed by anyone to anyone. In these ways, "Telephone Conversation" urges the reader to think about and saddly contemplate racial prejudice.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial