What is the critical overview of the poem ''Telephone Conversation'' by Wole Soyinka?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"Telephone Conversation" is actually a biting satire against the racist attitudes of whites in the 20th century. Overtly, the poem deals with a black, educated man who is ringing up a white landlady about renting an apartment and, we assume, is not allowed to rent the apartment because of the colour of his skin. However, if we look a little deeper, we can view this poem as a biting satire that attacks and ridicules the social evil and human weakness of racial prejudice. Consider how Soyinka places an educated, clever black person against an ignorant and prejudiced white person. The poem, through this contrast, shows the ridiculous nature of any racist claims of white supremacy. The horrendous nature of the question of the landlady, "HOW DARK?... ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?", makes a mockery of "civilised values," as does the absurd way in which the speaker responds:

Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see

The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet

Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused--

Foolishly, madam--by sitting down, has turned

My bottom raven black...

The insistence on the skin colour indicates that the landlady might accept a light-skinned tenant who could "pass" at being white. However, this only serves to increase her ignorance and insensitivity. The double meaning in the final, innocent question, "wouldn't you rather / See for yourself?", is hilarious because of the way that the speaker is actually asking the landlady if she wants to see his bottom to check the colour.

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