The last line of the poem is effective as it incorporates irony well. The interviewers and candidate obviously disagree yet the last line is “So glad we agree.” The fact that the interviewee is silenced throughout the poem is also very effective as the insulting sub-text of the interviewers is easier to pick up on. Finally the poem effectively conveys the degrading situation interviewees are put in.
“Telephone Conversation,” by Wole Soyinka is a telephone conversation between a landlady and a prospective tenant. Both voices are present, whereas “You will be hearing from us shortly,” is an interview where only the interviewer’s voice is heard. “You will be hearing from us shortly,” has varying line lengths and is written in verse paragraphs, to show different parts of the conversation, such as, qualifications, age and appearance whilst “Telephone Conversation” has a set structure for line length, which is two long lines followed by a shorter line and is not split into separate verse paragraphs or set with responses on the opposite side of the page, to give “Telephone Conversation” a rhythm of natural speech.
The first three lines of “Telephone Conversation,” start with the potential tenant describing the property in question. The property is portrayed as a pleasant place to live but a bombshell is then brought upon the reader in the fourth line as the potential tenant pronounces that, “Nothing remains but self-confession.” This is very negative in implication as it is hard to understand why someone in his position would need to “confess” anything. However it is important to recall at this time that the poem was written in approximately the 1960’s where racism was a part of the culture for certain parts of the population and so instead of wasting a journey the man confessed, “I am African.”
The confession also shows that the prospective tenant is aware of any prejudices the landlady may have, in “You will be hearing from us shortly,” it did not occur to the interviewee to confess he was not a member of “The Old School Tie.” The response to the statement “I am African” is “Silence. Silenced …” This one word sentence and use of alliteration, much like the way in which “Disturbing,” was used in “You will be hearing from us shortly,” is used to put a massive emphasis upon the word. The landlady did not respond with, ‘oh that’s no problem!’ she responded with silence, which shows that this may be a factor of her concern. The repetition and sibilance are very effective in lines 6-7 as they create a silence for us to see what the African’s thoughts are at this precise moment.
This silence is filled by the African man’s thoughts on the situation, Soyinka uses imagery and assonance to illustrate that the potential tenant is picturing the landlady on the other end of the line as a stereotype of a rich, posh middle-aged woman. “You will be hearing from us shortly,” only exhibits one side of the conversation whilst “Telephone Conversation,” is portraying both of the characters sides of the story as well as the African man’s imagination. As it is a telephone conversation it is important that Soyinka gives the African’s impression of the landlady so that it can be seen from his point of view and not hers just as “You will be hearing from us shortly,” is shown from the panels viewpoint and not the interviewee’s.
Much like “You will be hearing from us shortly,” the response stands out from the rest of the text, however the fact that all capitals and a different font are used instead of spacing the response on the other side of the page as in “You will be hearing from us shortly,” may imply that the landlady starts to shout as she believes the man to be simple. The landlady questioned “HOW DARK?”… I had not misheard… “ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?” The shock of the African character is conveyed by the use of the two ellipses on either side of the phrase “I had not misheard.” This is followed by “Button B. Button A. Stench of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.”
“Button B. Button A,” expresses the choice of the African character. He has to put himself into a category. He has the choice of being pragmatic in order to improve his chances of letting the property or to stand up for himself. Perhaps he sees another choice, to answer the question politely or discourteously, as the landlady is in the wrong to ask such a racist question. Why should it matter is the African is light or dark? The landlady’s ignorant question also highlights how ludicrous this prejudice is. The sense of smell is used in the following sentence to accentuate the shock at that precise moment. There is also word play upon hide-and-seek, as the landlady on the other end of the line is hidden from the protagonist.