How successfully does Wole Soyinka use language to convey his feelings about racial prejudice?





In the poem “Telephone Conversation” Wole Soyinka uses language very effectively to convey his feelings about racial prejudice. He uses a telephone because it is an interesting and original way of exploring the theme of racial prejudice, as you cannot see the person on the other end of the phone. Soyinka uses a variety of techniques to convey this idea to the reader such as structure, direct speech, word choice, repetition and tone.


Soyinka’s word choice is striking and slightly unusual. He chooses words that will embarrass and mock the woman on the phone. She wants to judge him by his appearance but she cannot therefore she is forced to openly admit her prejudice, “How dark...Are you light or very dark?”


There are many references to colour in this poem; one example is when red is used to describe the man’s anger as the landlady asks how black he is, “Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered omnibus squelching tar.” This shows how the man is so angry that it makes him suddenly aware of his surrounding area, focusing on the colour red. He later refers to sepia, peroxide blonde, brunette and raven black. This also shows contrasts in appearance and highlights the central issue of the poem.


The structure of the poem is set out in one verse because it is more realistic as it is as a conversation. This means that it flows all the way through. Soyinka uses a lot of direct speech and short sentences throughout the poem, “Silence...Button A. Button B.” This demonstrates the awkward nature of the conversation.


The tone of the poem is intense and becomes humorous towards the end. He becomes sarcastic and detached from the landlady. Subsequently he turns defensive and stereotypes her too; she does not realise and he begins to mock her, “You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?” The lady’s tone of voice is curious and she is very concerned about the colour of the man’s skin. She is discriminating against the man but she does not speak in an aggressive tone. This is shown when the woman asks, “Are you dark or very light?” This question is not clear in what she is asking and the question suggests that her tone of voice is concerned. The question she asked shows she is prejudiced against people with dark skin and she is discriminating against them.


Towards the end of the poem, he begins to mock her, “Facially I am brunette, but madam, you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet are a peroxide blond.” This use of dialogue creates impact and humour at the expense of the landlady. The punctuation adds expression throughout the poem and gives hesitation and disbelief to what the people are saying.


Overall, Soyinka’s techniques are very effective and they contribute to the overall effect of the poem.