Wole Soyinka

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In "Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka, explain the meaning of—Silence for spectroscopic / Flight of fancy, till truthfulness changed her accent.

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In Wole Soyinka's poem "Telephone Conversation," the speaker, a black man, is attempting to rent a room from a white woman. The line you're asking about is a turning point in their conversation.

The phrase 'Silence for spectroscopic/ Flight of fancy, till truthfulness changed her accent' is quite rich in meaning. Let's unpack it:

'Silence for spectroscopic' suggests a pause in their conversation, during which the woman is silent as she mentally scrutinizes or 'spectroscopically' examines the speaker. A spectroscope is a tool used in physics to identify the composition of a substance by the spectrum of light it emits or absorbs. This metaphor suggests that the woman is trying to determine the "composition" of the speaker based on his self-identification as black.

The 'Flight of fancy' could be read as the woman's imaginings or stereotypes about what it means to be black. She is silent as she navigates these ingrained biases.

'Till truthfulness changed her accent' suggests a shift in the woman's demeanor after this silent contemplation. Her 'accent' here could be read as her attitude or approach. The 'truthfulness' likely refers to the speaker's honesty about his race, which forces the woman to confront her own prejudices.

So, in simpler terms, this line suggests that the woman goes silent as she processes the speaker's admission of his race, contemplates her own biases, and then her attitude changes as a result of this confrontation with honesty and self-reflection.

Expert Answers

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The response generated is partially correct but, as with many literary works, there appear to be multiple ways to analyze the lines. Agreed that 'Silence for spectroscopic' would appear to suggest a slight pause in their conversation, as the landlady contemplates what the man is saying about his skin tone. It is ironic that silence is "for spectroscopic Flight of fancy." It reflects the woman considering the possible range of the man's color. However, to say that, 'Flight of fancy' could be read as the woman's imaginings or stereotypes about what it means to be black suggests that the is being empathetic, which likely does not understand the poem. She probably is not. It seems unlikely that she 'is silent as she navigates these ingrained biases' or confronts 'her own prejudices.' After all, the man perceives the impending hang up and there is no apology from her. 

It is outrageous and insulting that the woman even asks this question, as if the lightness or darkness of his skin matters. It reveals the depth of her prejudices. More likely, she would be more willing to accept a light skinned tenant. The use of the word 'spectroscopic' is noteworthy, as the word reflects the spectrum of light and her question is about the lightness or darkness of his skin. 

The man too has certain biases, as he pictures the woman's "Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled Cigarette-holder," which places her in a certain stereotyped box. His ironical responses are meant to communicate to her just how insulting her question is before she has a chance to hang up. 

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