How do ‘Telephone Conversation’, ‘Not My Best Side’ and ‘You Will be Hearing From Us Shortly’ each portray prejudice, racism and stereotypes? ‘Telephone Conversation’ by Wole Soyinka, ‘Not My Best Side’ by U A Fanthorpe and ‘You Will be Hearing From Us Shortly’ by U A Fanthorpe all have prejudiced elements in them, each in different ways giving each poem different effects upon the reader. They each use different styles, forms, structures, tones and language features to illustrate these points.
‘Telephone Conversation’ is a poem about a 1960s black man applying for a room from a white English landlady. The landlady is racist; she is portrayed as a stereotypical 1960s woman who believed that the white race was far superior to the black. We learn of her views by her feelings on he black man’s application, when the man mentions ‘I am African’, her immediate response is ‘How Dark?’ showing to the man and the reader that she is prejudiced against dark Africans.
Her racism is repeated throughout the poem, due mainly to direct speech, quotations from the actual telephone conversation between the man and the landlady, e.g. ‘Are you dark? Or very light?’ Her racist remarks stand out from the poem as they are in direct speech. The fact that most of her comments are questions makes the conversation seem more like an inquisition, as if the black man has done something wrong. The questions also make her feelings more known to both the reader and the man.
There is a lot of repetition within the landlady’s speech, e.g. ‘How Dark?’ (Line 10) ‘That’s dark, isn’t it?’ (Line 27). The repetition of the word ‘dark’ emphasises how racist she is. In certain areas of the poem there is silence, where either character is clearly shocked at the other one’s speech or actions; for example after the man tells her that ‘I am African’, there is silence, as the landlady considers what to do in her mind.
She is perhaps shocked that a black man has actually asked her for a room. There is also silence after the landlady starts asking him ‘How dark’ he is, as he is clearly shocked at her response to him informing her that he is African. He has probably had a lot of trouble finding accommodation, due to prejudice of landladies such as the one in this poem. The silence illustrates clearly how shocked he is. In the silence we hear his own thoughts that are going through his head at that second, which shows how shocked he really is, e.g. ‘It was real!’ ‘Revelation came’ etc.
The narrator (the African man) identifies with the racism right from the very start, he believes correctly that she is a stereotypical British landlady and that him being black may be a problem, this is when he mentions ‘Nothing remained but self-confession. “Madam,” I warned, “I hate a wasted journey – I am African”‘ in the first five lines. He shows his stereotypical views of the land lady after her initial comment about how dark he is with the line ‘Voice, when it came, lipstick coated, long gold-rolled cigarette holder pipped.’ (Lines 7-9). This shows how he retorts to such racism, with his own shrewd comments of her.
As afore mentioned, there is use of direct speech in this poem. We do not just hear her thoughts; we also hear some of his replies in Dialogue as well as his own thoughts. The use of the dialogue illustrates his shock to her racist approach, such as ‘You mean like plain or dark chocolate?’ (Line 19). The fact that despite her racism the man had not hung the telephone up shows how desperate he is for a room, and shows how difficult he believes it is for a black man to get a room. This results in allowing her to be racist against him without him replying to her.
The man uses ironic humour as his way to combat her remarks, e.g. ‘Considerate she was, varying the emphasis’ (line 17). The witty retorts that he uses shows the only way he can react to the woman, as he cannot speak to her directly. On line 10, the narrator mentions ‘cigarette holder pipped’, this may be another witty remark as ‘pipped’ may refer to the expression ‘give one the pip’ which means to irritate, and at that point the man was very irritated. The man also uses the word ‘Red’ repeatedly, e.g. ‘Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered omnibus squelching tar.’ The repetition refers to London, which is famous for being red, e.g. the buses, so the man literally sees red. The man disbelieves that his precise colour is so important, e.g. ‘Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light impersonality.’
The syntax used in this poem is very irregular, nevertheless effective. The words in many sentences are arranged in a peculiar fashion, such as ‘Voice, when it came, lipstick coated, long gold-rolled cigarette holder pipped.’ This emphasises the shock the man has about the landlady’s question ‘How Dark?’ etc. The language used throughout the poem is generally quite advanced, there are many descriptive sentences, using words such as ‘peroxide’, ‘spectroscopic’ etc which are either used to emphasis his surprise or the tension, e.g. ‘Silence of spectroscopic (as he looks through the colours of the spectrum), flight of fancy till truthfulness changed her accent hard on the mouthpiece’ (lines 23-25).
Another time when descriptive words are used is when the man is trying to convince the woman to at least have a look at him, e.g. ‘Facially I am a brunette, but madam you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet are a peroxide blonde’ (lines 28-30). There is also an aspect of irony, when the man says ‘Friction caused – foolishly by sitting down’