Wole Soyinka

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Student Question

How does the man perceive the landlady in Wole Soyinka's poem? Is his perception aligned with her behavior?

Quick answer:

The man perceives the landlady as potentially racist, anticipating rejection due to his African heritage. His suspicion is confirmed and exacerbated when she asks about his skin color on a sliding scale, revealing a nuanced but still prejudiced mindset. Her persistent inquiries irritate him, leading him to respond with sarcastic exactitude, highlighting her irrational discrimination.

Expert Answers

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In Wole Soyinka's poem "Telephone Conversation", the first-person narrator has enough bitter experience of rejection to forewarn the landlady that he is African, giving her the chance to turn him down without a wasted journey. He is at least suspicious that she may be racist but this is based on the behavior of others. Her first question, however, takes him by surprise. How dark or light is he? This is a different variety of prejudice. Rather than dividing people into black and white, the landlady has a sliding scale of color. This exasperates the narrator, since it is no less racist than a simple bifurcation, still discriminating based on skin color, and seems even less rational.

The narrator becomes increasingly irritated by the landlady's inquiries and the difficulty of answering such a foolish question with any semblance of intelligence. He therefore resorts to sarcasm, classifying his body parts according to color with the pointless exactitude she demands. Although we hear very little from the landlady, her harping in the same point justifies his mounting annoyance in finding a new variety of color prejudice with which to cope.

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