Telephone Conversation-Critical Appreciation

Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka- Critical Appreciation

Telephone Conversation-Critical Appreciation : Wole Soyinka has been considered as one of the renowned poet, playwright and novelist of Nigeria who has described disparity and discrimination on the basis of race and colour in his conversational poem “Telephone Conversation” even in modern society.

Telephone Conversation-critical appreciation

During his imprisonment between 1967 and 1969, Wole Soyinka produced poems and prose with bleak and dismal themes. His famous play “Death and the King’s Horseman’ appeared in 1975. In his poem “Telephone Conversation”, Wole Soyinka has described the prejudice deeply ingrained in the minds of the affluent white community. The poem is an expression of humiliation, sadness, and suffering of the poet.


In ‘Telephone Conversation”, the poet has described his painful experience when he conversed with a land-lady on a telephone. The poet wanted a house on rent so he contacted the lady for a house on rent in a European country.  At first, there was silence on the telephone; the land-lady conveyed her displeasure by keeping quiet for a moment. The words ‘silenced transmission’ stand for her quietness. The following lines vividly imply that the conversation was taking place between an affluent European land-lady and the black man.

“Voice, when it came,

Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled

Cigarette-holder pipped.

The poet spoke to the lady and told her that the price was reasonable or affordable. For him, the location had little significance. The land-lady told the poet that she no longer lived in the house; and she wanted the house to be rented to the poet. The poet was satisfied and he was ready to settle in the house. But the poet wanted to confirm her approval by giving her some more details to the lady. He informed her that he is an African man.

After his revelation about his country and birth place there was silence on the telephone. For some time, the land-lady kept quiet, she asked the poet whether he was light. She just wanted to confirm that the poet was black person. She questioned:

‘HOW DARK?’….. I had not misheard….? ‘ARE YOU



As if the lady wished the poet to select right option: ‘black or white’. The poet was greatly offended and hurt by her remarks but he said nothing. She again asked:



“You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?”

The poet felt humiliated because the land-lady did not think of him as a man of flesh and blood. She treated him as if he is an object or an animal. The poet got infuriated by her sarcastic interrogation.

So in the end, the poet became satirical. He informed her that he is ‘West African sepia.” The land-lady once again enquired what the poet meant by ‘West African sepia.” She wished to know whether he was a man with dark brown hair: brunette; or a man with fair hair: blond; or a man with shiny black hair: raven black. In response to her questions, the poet’s tone got bitter and harsh. The poet was deeply hurt by her curtness. The land-lady again enquired:



“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS”; ‘Like brunette’,


Finally, the poet told the lady that he was a man with dark brown hair. He also revealed that his palms, soles of his feet are blond. He asked the land-lady to see him personally. At the poet’s curt reply, the lady got infuriated. She put down the receiver of a telephone with a thudding sound. Its effect was like a ‘thunder clap’ on the poet’s ear.

Thus, Wole Soyinka has commented upon disparity and inequality in society in modern age also. He has expressed colour prejudice in the poem “Telephone Conversation”. Though the poem is short, it leaves permanent imprints upon the minds of readers because of his dialogic style and universal appeal of the poem. The poem is thought-provoking; and it makes people think and feel about social inequality which is an evil in all times and all ages.

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