Rhapsody Workbook Answers Poem 6 Telephone Conversation
Telephone Conversation Poem Long Answer Questions
How is colour highlighted in the poem and why?
The various colours highlighted in the poem illustrates the difference between the two people ie the black man and the white landlady, based on the colour of their skin. The red colour is magnified in the poem to explain the various things like the booth, the pillar-box and double tiered omnibus which symbolize not only the anger of the speaker but also the aristocratic society of London.
The poem also explains the colour of the dark skinned poet who was not fair complexioned like the landlady on the other side of the telephone line. The “gold-coloured” shows the upper class to which the “fair skinned” people are said to belong. Various colours are used in the poem including red, black, gold, milk, chocolate, brunette and blonde. The colours chocolate, brunette, milk, blonde all these are used to highlight the difference between the black Africans and the white aristocrats living in London.
Certain words in the poem are in capital letters -Why?
The words in the poem which are in capital letters are : “HOW DARK?”, “ARE YOU LIGHT”, “OR VERY DARK?”, “OR VERY LIGHT?” These words are actually inserted in the poem purposefully to show the racist mentality of the fair-skinned people.
When a landlady talks to a tenant,the only matter of concern for the landlady should be whether her tenant is suitable for staying with respect to his behavior, character, financial position etc but not on his skin colour. The poet has used these capital letters to magnify the fact that it is more important for the landlady to know how dark-skinned her would-be tenant on the other side of the phone is, rather than how erudite or well-behaved he might be.
What does the poet intend to say in the poem? Justify the title of the poem.
The poem is actually a satire in which the poet in order to make his point against racism, uses comedy, sarcasm and irony. Through this poem he wants the people to understand that colour is merely a matter of visibility and has nothing to do with a person’s uniqueness and behaviour. Because the poet is dark skinned, he understands how people regard dark-skinned people as inferior and low-status individuals which he wishes to change.
The poet has given his poem a very suitable and relevant title. It refers to a phone conversation between the lady who is white, and the poet who is very dark or black. The poet plainly demonstrate the shallow prejudice by the dialogue. From first to last, these two individuals do not meet but talk over the phone. The telephone represents the distance between two ends of the line and the fact that they cannot meet at a location.
Write a note on the character and behaviour of the speaker in reference to the poem “Telephone Conversation?”
The poem “Telephone Conversation” has two characters. Since it is a conversation over phone we find two individuals on the two sides of the line. One is a black African man who is looking for somewhere to rent and needs a room or apartment and the other one is the landlady who is fair complexioned. So in response to an advertisement given by the white lady, he calls the lady to discuss about the rent of the room which he wants.
The conversation between the black man and the white lady takes place over the phone where we find the black man to be in a happy and peaceful mood where he likes the price as it is reasonable. He also has no problem regarding the location of the house which he would take on rent. When the landlady informs him that she stays separately in another address, the man is more happy and is attracted as his privacy will be maintained. So we can say that since all his requirements are fulfilled, he is seen to be happy.
But a little later in the poem, when he confesses to the lady that he is an African, it shows that he is very aware of the racial prejudices prevalent in the society and he is also particular as he does not want a wasted journey. When the landlady questions him by asking how dark black or light black he is, he seems to be shocked as he doesn’t expect such questions from him.
Here we find him to be a little afraid of her reaction as this attitude of the landlady has not been expected from him. We find how in the poem, the black man answers the lady sarcastically and then, we find this transforming into frustration and his answers are very sharp and sarcastic.
As we reach the end of the poem, we find how he tries to convince the lady to come and see him. We can say that the black man’s behaviour is changeable which changes according to the situation. It also says that the man is against the prejudices related to race.
Telephone Conversation Poem Short Answer Questions
What things about the accommodation attract the speaker?
Over the telephone, the conversation is taking place between the speaker, who is an African, seeking a room for rent and a white landlady who has advertised for it. The speaker finds the price of the rent suitable for him and regarding location,the speaker is not interested. Moreover, the landlady does not stay in that house which she wants to give it for rent therefore privacy is maintained. All these things attract the speaker and he decides to take it for rent.
What shocks the speaker and why?
The speaker is shocked because when he confesses to the lady that he is an African, there is a silence for some time from the other side ie the landlady remains silent for sometime.
What images does the speaker form of the landlady when he hears the voice of the lady after her silence?
The landlady becomes silent after she hears that the speaker is an African. The speaker then thinks her silence to be due to her good breeding. Then when he hears her voice he makes a mental image of the landlady’s lips being coated with red lipstick and her hands holding gold-coated cigarette holder.
What does the expression “rancid breath” in the poem mean?
“Rancid breath” means a matter which is offensive and disagreeable. Here in the poem the landlady’s voice seems to be rancid ie the voice in which the lady speaks to the black man is under a nasty and insulting breath.
Why do you think the poet has used the ‘red’ colour in this poem?
The poet has used red booth,red pillar-box,red double decker bus because first of all he wanted to show his anger and frustration towards the xenophobia of the landlady and secondly the red colour symbolizes the aristocratic society of London.
What is the moral of the poem “Telephone Conversation?”
The poet through this poem tries to raise awareness of the fact that skin colour should not matter in an open-minded, educated and modem society.
What does the expression “spectroscopic flight of fancy” mean in the poem?
The word spectroscopy means dispersion of visible light into seven colours. Thus the word explains the dispersed flow of thoughts of the lady after talking to the poet. Her fancies of a dark man gained wings and attained new levels of interpretations when she had to admit the fact that she knew lesser than the person on the other side of the line over the phone.
What is the imagery in “Telephone Conversion?”
The imagery, “lipstick-coated, gold-rolled cigarette holder piped” is the mental image of the lady made by the African speaker by just listening to her voice. His attitude towards her is that she is socially superior than him and from a higher strata.
Telephone Conversation Poem Logic-Based Questions
Complete the following sentences by providing a REASON for each:
The African caller or the tenant finds the accommodation suitable because …………
The price is reasonable and the location of it doesn’t make any difference to him. Moreover, the landlady says that she does not live there which means he would have privacy.
The black man makes a confession to the landlady that he is an African because …………
He hates a wasted journey which means that he does not want to waste his time and money on travelling with the result of only being turned away, simply for being black.
The speaker feds ashamed because …………
The woman asks him how dark he is and he is so annoyed that he remains silence for some time.This silence of his own seems to be ill-mannered to him, so he is ashamed.
The poet uses irony in his poem “Telephone Conversation” because …………
He wanted to show how racist the people in the West are and how they judge others only by the skin colour and not by their mind or abilities.
The speaker says that his bottom is raven black because …………
Of the friction caused during his sitting time.
The speaker tells the woman that he is black but his palms and soles are not black but are a peroxide blonde because …………
When the speaker replies to the lady’s question saying that he is “West African Sepia”,the woman tries to know more that what’s that and when he answers that he is like brunette, the lady is still not satisfied and asks him whether that is dark and the speaker tells sarcastically that his palms and soles are not black.
The speaker asks the woman to visit him because ………….
When he sees that the lady is only interested in the colour of his skin and since the speaker is black he realizes that she will not give him accommodation. And in order to prevent any further queries of the lady regarding his complexion,he asks her to visit him and find herself, how dark he is.
Telephone Conversation Poem About the Poet Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet and essayist in the English Language. His original name was Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka. He was bom on 13th July, 1934 in Nigeria. He wrote several plays among which his first important play was “A Dance of The Forests”. Other plays include “The Lion And The Jewel”, “The Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis.”
His serious plays include The Strong Breed, Kongi’s Harvest, The Road, From Zia; With Love, Death and The King’s Horseman. He also wrote several volumes of poetry that include -A Shuttle Of The Crypt, Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems etc. He is well known for his precise command of language and a mastery of lyric, dramatic and meditative poetic forms. Soyinka was the first Black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, he got Benson Medal from Royal Society of Achievement, Golden Plate Award 2009 etc.
Telephone Conversation About the Poem
‘Telephone Conversation” written by Wole Soyinka is a narrative poem that focuses on the conflict between a black man and a white woman through which actually, the poet extends this conflict between the two races in the society. They are having a discussion over the phone and through their conversations we come to know that the landlady is a white woman and the speaker who wants to rent an apartment is a black man. The poem highlights the impact of racial discrimination in the macro structure of society
Telephone Conversation Poem in Summary
“Telephone Conversation” as the title suggests is a conversation over the telephone. The poet talks principally about two strangers speaking over the phone. It is a conversation between a black man seeking a room for rent, and a white lady who has advertised such an offer.
The black African man makes a call to the white landlady and he finds the rent reasonable though the location seems to be indifferent ie not of much importance, yet he accepts. During the course of the dialogue, the man gets to know that his privacy would not be hampered as the landlady does not stay on the premises. Then the moment arrives when the man has made up his mind to consider the offer.
But before he declares his interest in renting the place, he mentions to the lady that he is an African. On hearing this the lady hesitates and becomes silent. This silence of the lady makes the speaker imagine her lips with red lipstick applied to them and the long gold-plated cigarette holder in her hands conveying her aristocratic wealthy status.
The man first takes it to be an impolite gesture of refusal. However the silence is broken as the lady starts to speak again and asks him to explain exactly how dark he is. At first the man thinks that he might have misheard the question, but when she repeats the same question ie how light black or deep black his skin is, he understands that it is something very important for her to know before she allows him to rent her house.
This attitude of the lady comes out to be utterly devastating for the man, and for a moment he is disgusted with the question and fancies himself to be a machine, like the phone, and that he has been reduced to being a button on that very phone.
He can also smell the stench from her words and sees “red” all around him. In confusion he presses button B and then button A as he does not know what to say. He requests the woman to make the thing simple for his understanding as he notices the red colour of the booth and the pillar-box. The woman we find clarifies herself to know what she wants.
She asks again whether his colour is dark black or little less. The man asks her whether she means his colour is plain black or little black chocolate and then he says that he is a red brown African as mentioned in his passport. The woman remains silent again and then says to him that she cannot understand his exact colour. The speaker says that his complexion is like brunette. The woman asserts that his colour is nothing but black only.
The man says that he is not completely black because his palms and soles are white. He also explains
that his bottom is like the colour of a raven which has happened due to the result of the friction resulting from his foolish sitting. He is also aware that on hearing about his black complexion, the landlady will never be convinced and he also senses that she might end the call at any time.
At this crucial point, he makes a desperate attempt pleading her to come and meet him in person and take a good look at him and then take a decision but before that the landlady slams down the receiver on his face.
Telephone Conversation Poem Line Wise Explanation
The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady sware she lived Off premises.
Nothing remained But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey-I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
The poem begins with the speaker talking on the phone with a potential lady, hoping to rent some sort of housing- likely an apartment or a room. The accommodation seems fine: it’s not costly, the location isn’t bad and moreover the landlady doesn’t even live on the premises which means more privacy. But there’s only one obstacle for the lady and that is the speaker is an African.
So in the conversation over the phone between the African man and the white landlady, the black man as he is a self respecting man plainly admits to the lady that he is an African. He knows that he is living in a racially conscious society where colour prejudice is rampant. The speaker refers to this moment as a “self confession,” with his blackness being something that the landlady must be warned about.
He preempts the prejudice and saves a wasted journey by confessing that he is an African. If he doesn’t tell her that he is black before he comes to view the property and if she sees that he is a black man she won’t rent the property to him because of racial prejudice.
Then he would have wasted a journey. The woman on the other hand, goes silent as if to convey that she belongs to an affluent aristocratic family. The black man from the opposite side can imagine the woman with red coated lipstick on her lips and cigarette holder in the her hand.
He is caught in a humiliating situation. The opening line takes the reader straight into an already existent conversation, the thoughts of a person engaged in some sort of negotiation over price. But here we find them talking about the price reasonable.
Then we find how the landlady swore that is, she told the absolute truth as if in the name of God that she “lived off premises” which shows that she must have lived in some other address. Then it indicates, the speaker’s doubt that he may be denied the houseon rent just because he is black. It also shows the speaker being aware of the discriminatory attitude of the white people towards the African blacks.
“HOW DARK?” … I had not misheard… “ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis-
Then we find, the speaker telling that he has heard correctly, what the lady asks him. The lady asks him and wants to know how dark black or light black he is. This question arises a temporary shock to him and in a confusion he presses button B and then button A. Here the poet tries to say that his race is reduced to status of machine. He realizes that the question of the lady is like a bad smell.
To him it seems as if he hears the ugliness of her voice/the prejudice against his race over the phone while standing in the public booth. As it is a conversation it implies that the question of colour is not new; it is already there and one can realize its dirty nature. The speaker then notices the red colour of the telephone booth, the pillar box.
The repeated use of the colour “red” is significant here. It could refer to anger or embarrassment. The colour red can show how shock changes to disbelief that transforms itself quickly into sheer disgust and utter indignation. “The Red booth. Red pillar box, Red double tiered / Omnibus squelching tar”-can suggest an allusion to the colour of the British Empire.
The “red double tiered omnibus squelching tar” actually means that the red omnibus pressed with crushing force a huge amount of tar, but through this expression, the poet tries to describe the colour or complexion of the speaker that is black like tar and thus being pressed by the red omnibus that symbolizes the aristocratic life of England.
Then the speaker says that he is really in such a situation which makes him feel that his own silence is ill-mannered. He is choked and shouts that he cannot understand what exactly the woman wants to know. So he asks the lady to explain her question in a more simple way.
He realizes that the woman is shifting her focus. It makes him think that she is a considerable woman who does not wish to hurt his thoughts and feelings. So the colour red, we find expresses the modernity and aristocracy of the British society which suffers from prejudices of the black colour through the discrimination of it in the society.
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT”
“You mean-like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,
I chose. “West African sepia”-and as an afterthought,
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT” conceded,
“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS” “Like brunette.”
We see here how the landlady keeps on enquiring about the man and asks him the same question. She wants to know the same thing ie whether the colour of his skin is dark black or it is light black. While the black man says that he is not completely black, the landlady willingly calls him; brunette.
Here we find the tone to be clinical and impersonal. The speaker says how the landlady’s accent was cold and emotionless. The speaker alters the tone and; nature of the woman’s concern and selects the words “West African Sepia,” to answer her question about his colour.
The question is soul shattering to the speaker. Fuming with anger, he chooses a superior vocabulary and replies in a sarcastic tone. He tells the woman that this colour of his skin is already mentioned in his passport. At this moment we find no answer from the lady.
It seems as if she thinks of all the colours of a spectrum in which no distinction is made to show which colour is inferior or superior. She remains silent until her real concern compels her to admit that she does not understand what colour the speaker is referring to. The speaker tries to tell her by saying that his colour is like brunette or brown.
“THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
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-One moment madam!”- sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears- “Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t
See for yourself?”
The woman on the phone emphasizes that the colour of the speaker’s skin is black. To this remark, the man sarcastically comments that he is not totally black. The caller explains that his face is black but that the other parts of his hand ie palms and soles of his feet are lighter-peroxide blonde! Peroxide is a chemical used to bleach hair. Unabashed he goes further, much further.
He ironically admits that sitting down has caused his bottom to turn raven black due to friction. This comment of the speaker has a direct affect on the landlady, and he senses her unease. The quasi politeness of his tone can hardly conceive the ultimate insult inflicted on the lady and shows how indignant the man is.
He wants to say more but he also knows that the landlady will never be convinced with his black complexion and he senses that she might clang the receiver down. So he makes a desperate attempt to plead her to come in person and take a good look at him.
So we find that the end of the poem is full of irony and sarcasm. In a nutshell, the speaker has turned the tables on racist bias and with a combination of humour, moral stance and arguably charm he has shown up the landlady for what she is ie through his powerful criticism he is able to slow the landlady’s racist and discriminatory attitude.
Telephone Conversation Poem Theme
In the poem “Telephone Conversation,” the poet Wole Soyinka exposes the prevalence of racial discrimination in the society. The poem rests upon the conflict between the protagonist and the absurdity of racism that makes the antagonist take a negative stance towards him.
The poem deals with the conversation over the phone between a black African man who tries to confirm a housing arrangement and the landlady who is white in colour and believes in racism and ethnocentricism.
The poet brings to light how racial discrimination is practiced covertly by many white people regardless of the stringent laws against it.The landlady refuses to rent her apartment to the man just due to one reason and ie his complexion being black.
At the end this attitude of the woman evokes satirical response from the black man when he asks her to come and see the colour of his skin herself. The poem is thus a satire on social xenophobia.
Telephone Conversation Poem Word Meaning
Reasonable — appropriate
Indifferent — uninterested or stoic
Transmission — the act of sending or passing information or something else.
Breeding — upbringing
Stench — ill-smelling
Racial — race-related
Rancid — pungent;stinking;musty
Squelching — curbing;stamping down
Dumbfounded — astounded;greatly astonished
Simplificatión — reduction;lightening
Assent — consent;willingness
Clinical — emotionless;impersonal
Revelation — disclosure;declaration
Considerate — careful not to harm or cause inconvenience
Conceding — accepting
Spectroscopic — related to the formation of spectrum of light
Brunette — a person with dark brown hair or colour
Blonde — a person with yellow hair
Rearing — upbringing
Thunderclap — striking suddenly like a clap of thunder
Pleaded — requested
Telephone Conversation Poem Critical Appreciation
The poem “Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka is a scathing comment on the prevailing issues of racism and racist prejudices. As the very title of the poem indicates, it is about a conversation going on over the telephone between a black speaker who is seeking a room for rent and a white lady who has given an advertisement for such an offer.
This poem is a satire that exposes the presence of racial discrimination at the individual level in the society. The poem becomes significant as it presents both the attitude of the white woman towards the black man and the black man’s anger towards the discrimination shown by the white woman.
So we find how the man, being aware of such prevailing racial practices, makes a telephone call to the landlady from the public telephone booth. The poet through the usage of colours like black and white exposes the impact of the prevailing racial discrimination and hatred in the society at large. The poem is an ironical comment on the racial prejudice that still exists in the Western World.
Even among those who are considered educated and respectable, the colour of the skin seems to be greater significance than the individual himself. The speaker over the phone thinks the rent reasonable and the location does not matter.
So he is prepared to rent the room but before proceeding he feels it would be better to let the landlady know that he is black and from Africa. The moment the landlady comes to know about his complexion there issilence. When her voice finally is heard, the poet imagines her to be “lipstick coated, long gold -rolled, cigarette I holder piped.”
The landlady enquires how dark is he and he has not misheard as the lady again repeats by asking whether he is light or very dark.The speaker is dumb founded and expects her to reject him but her question leaves him speechless. She goes on repeating the same question and when she is given an answer that he is black, she is not satisfied with it and further asks what does he mean-whether he is plain black or milk chocolate.
The speaker chooses the description of himself on the passport and tells her “West African Sepia” and also adds “Down in my passport” as an afterthought Still the lady is unsatisfied and asks what that means. This time he tells her that his face is brunette but his palms and soles are a “peroxide blonde.” He further says that his bottom is as black as raven which has happened due to friction.
The landlady hearing this disconnects the phone before the speaker asks her in a pleading tone, to meet him in person and see him. We see in the poem, how the man at first remains polite and humble. But when he realizes the derogatory attitude of the lady towards the black, he gets annoyed and embarrassed and starts responding in an ironical and sarcastic way.
The poem reveals the pathetic and shameful nature of those who are foolish enough to judge people by their skin colour rather than by their character. The irony, humour and sarcasm are very subtle. The innocence and cultured tone of the man, Who is supposed to be a savage, is effectively pitched against the rudeness and prejudice of the landlady, who is supposed to be cultured and sophisticated. The poet, therefore, highlights the hypocritical nature of these people in the poem.
Telephone Conversation Poem Style
The poem “Telephone Conversation” of Wole Soyinka is a lyric poem that is written in free verse. It is a dialogue involving between two people who are indulged in a phone call throughout the poem. To a considerable extent, it follows the form of conversation in question and answer pattern.
It is written in a single, 35-line stanza with no particular meter or rhyme scheme. The poem feels conversational rather than tightly controlled but it is in a simple and easy to understand manner. It also marks the use of enjambment as there are sentences running from one line to the next, as for eg:”
Silenced transmission of prescribed good-breeding,” and “Stench of rancid breath or public hide and speak.” The poet has also used various poetic devices. Other than satire, irony and sarcasm he also used imagery, pun, alliteration and assonance.
The poet uses alliteration like “silence, silenced,” compound words like pillar-box, lipstick-coated, double-tiered which are important features of this poem. The mention of the colours like red, white, black, brunette, dark chocolate also play a vital role in conveying extended meanings.
Telephone Conversation Poem MCQs
Choose the correct alternative to complete the following sentences:
The speaker in the poem finds the price of the rent …………..
a. too high
b. too little
c. beyond his reach
The speaker imagines the lady to be with …………..
a. lipstick coated
b. cigarette-holder piped
d. a and b both
d. a and b both
The landlady lives …………..
a. in the house to be rented
b. near the public booth
c. away from the place she wants to give on rent
d. in the speaker’s neighbourhood
c. away from the place she wants to give on rent
Which button does the speaker press first in nervousness
a. button B
b. button A
c. button C
d. none of the above
a. button B
The compound words used in the first stanza of the poem are …………..
a. location indifferent
b. silenced transmission
c. off premises
How many times does the word “red” used in the second stanza …………..
The speaker feels ashamed by …………..
a. the woman’s ill-mannered silence
b. his own colour
c. his own ill-mannered silence
d. the question asked to him
c. his own ill-mannered silence
The black colour of the speaker’s bottom is described as black as …………..
In the passport of the speaker his colour is mentioned as …………..
d. West African Sepia
d. West African Sepia
The confession that, the speaker makes in the first stanza is that …………..
a. he is a white man
b. He is an African
c. He is an intelligent man
d. He does not need a room on rent
b. He is an African