You are on page 1of 10

Telephone Conversation

Top tip

Chapter 3: Section C of the Poetry Anthology

You can find out more about Soyinka and


his poetry and other writings from reference
books or on the Internet. You could read
some more of his poems, which will help
you to understand Soyinka and his poetry.

It has been suggested that the word


indifferent is used as a pun, as it can both
mean neither very good nor very bad or
neutral, not biased which turns out to be
untrue because it is clearly an area where
people can be very prejudiced against
different races.

*Button A: buttons that had to be pressed


when using a telephone in a public booth.
Such telephones are no longer in use.

He suggests that the landlady was running


through all the different shades (like the
colours on a paint chart) in her imagination.

Key:
Repetition
Word connected with colour
Alliteration
Assonance

Background and context


Wole Soyinka was born in 1934 in Western Nigeria, and is still alive. He has
written poetry, plays and fiction, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.
He came to England as a young man in the late 1950s, and the events in
Telephone Conversation relate to this period, when there were no laws to prevent
landlords from discriminating against different ethnic groups when renting out
houses or flats, as there are now.
The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore 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.
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 dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis
ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT? Revelation came.
You mean like plain or milk chocolate?
Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. West African sepia and as afterthought,
Down in my passport. Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness changed her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. WHATS THAT? conceding
DONT KNOW WHAT THAT IS. Like brunette.
THATS DARK, ISNT 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 blond. 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, wouldnt you rather
See for yourself?
Wole Soyinka

124

M03_ENGL_SB_6750__CH03.indd 124

13/06/2011 13:37

Understanding the text and commenting on the language


1. Think about the time this poem refers to, over 50 years ago, and about ways in
which attitudes to different people have changed in Britain over this period. For
example, the law now makes discrimination illegal at work or if you are renting
a house, for example.
You should also ask yourself whether, despite these changes, there are still
examples of prejudice in our society think about any instances you have come
across.
2. Think about how poets sometimes use irony as a way of adding humour (words
not having their usual meaning, or being used in a mocking way, for example).
Find examples of irony in this poem.

show how Soyinka portrays the landlady (looking at the contribution of


irony)

focus on features of Soyinkas language and its effect, especially the


language of colour

pick out the effect of words that seem


to you striking or unusual and which
convey Soyinkas ideas about how he
feels about being rejected as a tenant.

Some examples have been given to get you


started.

Key ideas for links with other poems


In this course, and in particular in the
examination or the coursework essay (Route
2), it is important to think about how different
poets deal with similar ideas or themes. Fill in
your grid, to help you link this poem with
other poems.

Figure 3.11 Old-fashioned telephone box.

Language

Comment on meaning/effect

long, gold-rolled /
Cigarette holder

This is very striking language: the writer is


imagining, as he speaks on the telephone, what
the woman is like from the sound of her voice.

has turned / My
bottom raven black

This comical exaggeration shows that the


womans reaction has made Soyinka desperate.

Stench / Of rancid
breath of public
hide-and-speak

This is unusual language, partly because of the


punning phrase hide-and-speak, which may
mean that the woman is speaking but hiding her
real feelings. The reference to rancid breath may
be because a telephone booth may have a bad
smell, or he may again imagine that the woman
has bad breath, either literally or as a metaphor.

The poem is mainly about prejudice and


discrimination, but it also about how people
sometimes learn hard lessons from their
experience.

Chapter 3: Section C of the Poetry Anthology

3. Select some key phrases from the poem, working with a partner if possible.
These may:

Some questions to consider


Thinking about these questions (and perhaps writing notes or timed short answers) will be helpful when you revise for the
examination, because you will have thought about the key ideas in this poem.
1. To what extent do you feel that Soyinka comes across as bitter in this poem? Why?
2. How does the humour in the poem help the reader to explore the poems themes?
3. Why does the poem concentrate so much on different shades of colour?
4. How much sympathy do you have for (i) the writer and (ii) the character of the landlady? Why?
125

M03_ENGL_SB_6750__CH03.indd 125

13/06/2011 13:37

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice


Background and context
Jane Austen was born in 1775 and died in 1817. It was a period with wars against
Napoleon following the French Revolution, including both the Battle of Trafalgar
in 1805 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. These were not the subject of Jane
Austens work, although officers often appear in her novels, including Pride and
Prejudice, in which the arrival of the regiment causes a huge social stir. Jane Austen
focuses on the social classes with which she was most familiar, the middle and
upper classes, and on how people from these classes behave their vanities and
snobberies, love matches and family sagas.

Plot

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession


of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Mr Bingley is a rich man who has come to live in Netherfield. This causes much
general excitement, especially for Mrs Bennet with her five unmarried daughters.
A good marriage will be essential for her daughters their fathers house and the
estate will not be passed down to them because of inheritance laws, which state
that a male heir will inherit.
Mrs Bennet is keen for her eldest daughter, Jane, to meet Mr Bingley, and Jane
dances with him at a village ball. Bingleys friend, Mr Darcy, is seen by others to be
very proud and arrogant. He meets Elizabeth, the next eldest daughter, but is not
impressed with the lower social status of the Bennets and is rather rude about
Elizabeth. Later, Elizabeth learns (mistakenly, as it turns out) that Mr Darcy has
acted dishonourably to Mr Wickham, a handsome and pleasant young officer
stationed at Meryton, and so she forms an equally low opinion of Darcy. However,
Darcy gradually changes his mind about Elizabeth, valuing her intelligent
conversation and her bright eyes, to the extent that, while they are at Rosings, he
declares his love. To his surprise, he is rejected, partly because of his involvement in
separating Jane and Bingley and partly because of Elizabeths beliefs about his
behaviour towards Wickham. Elizabeth has very different ideas about marriage
from many of those around her. Her friend, Charlotte Lucas, marries the
unpleasant Mr Collins (who proposed to her only because Elizabeth turned him
down too) for practical and financial reasons.

Figure 2.2 Jane Austen.

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

The fact that the novel has a plot that centres on marriage is set out from its
famous opening lines:

Darcy realises that he must behave differently if he is to win Elizabeth, and writes
to her explaining why he acted as he did with regard to Jane and Mr Wickham. He
sets out the story of Mr Wickham in full, in particular how he had almost seduced
Georgiana Darcy (his younger sister) in an attempt to take possession of her money.
Elizabeth now begins to question whether she has misjudged Darcy. On a holiday
with her aunt and uncle in Derbyshire, she meets Darcy at his splendid estate of
Pemberley and finds his manner very altered. She later becomes even more grateful
to him for rescuing the situation after Wickham and Lydia, her youngest sister,
55

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 55

13/06/2011 13:34

have eloped, by arranging, anonymously, for them to marry and for Wickhams
debts to be paid. Elizabeth assumes she will never see Darcy again, but Darcy, in
guilt, admits to Mr Bingley that he was wrong to intervene in Bingleys relationship
with Jane and brings about Bingleys renewed hopes for Jane.
Mr Bingley returns to Netherfield Hall, with the intention of proposing to Jane, who
delightedly accepts. Darcy returns with him. By this time, both Elizabeth and Darcy
have overcome their prejudice against each other, and abandoned the pride which
had stopped them expressing their true feelings. The novel, therefore, ends with the
marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy and of Jane and Bingley, much to the joy of all,
not least of Mrs Bennet: the opening words seem to have come true.

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

Characters
Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy

Elizabeth Bennet

Mr Darcy is:

Elizabeth is:

romantically inclined towards Elizabeth Bennet

the next eldest daughter of the Bennets

proud, prejudiced, arrogant and at times even rude

romantically inclined towards Mr Darcy

loyal

impulsive

stubborn

intelligent, spirited and witty

handsome, intelligent, rich and exceptionally well


connected

her fathers favourite daughter

loving and loyal

a kind master

stubborn and at times proud and prejudiced

often awkward

idealistic about love and marriage

a loving brother

independent in her views.

prepared to admit he has been wrong and to change

the owner of Pemberley, reportedly one of the most


beautiful estates in England.

Jane Bennet
Jane is:

Mr Bingley

the eldest daughter of the Bennets

Mr Bingley is:

romantically inclined towards Mr Bingley

romantically inclined towards Jane Bennet

calm and collected

good-natured and affable

easily led

someone who wants the best for everyone and sees


the best in everyone

eager to please

the most beautiful of the Bennet sisters

Darcys oldest friend

incapable of nastiness or deception

the wealthy occupant of Netherfield Hall

very close to Elizabeth

someone who always sees the best in people.

someone who does not readily show her feelings.

56

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 56

13/06/2011 13:34

Mr Bennet

Mrs Bennet

Mr Bennet is:

Mrs Bennet is:

the father of five daughters

desperately keen for her five daughters to get married


to someone rich; she wishes for greater financial
stability for them

sharp-witted but capable of being sarcastic

closest to Elizabeth out of all his daughters

intolerant of foolishness and childishness

fond of being the centre of attention

quiet and studious

melodramatic

rather unhappily married to his wife

tactless and ill-mannered

fond of staying in his study as a retreat.

living on the edge of her nerves

foolish.

Mary Bennet
Kitty Bennet

the middle Bennet sister

Kitty is:

described as the only plain one in the family

the next youngest of the Bennet sisters

said to be the possessor of neither genius nor taste

often caught in the middle of her family discussions

eager to show off her accomplishments

influenced by Lydia

sometimes seen as an embarrassment

similar to Lydia, though not her mothers favourite.

rather strait-laced.
George Wickham

Lydia Bennet

Mr Wickham is:

Lydia is:

son of the steward of Darcys father

the youngest Bennet sister and Mrs Bennets favourite

one of the officers in the Meryton regiment

a determined flirt

easy-going and charming

pretty but very silly and impulsive

a gambler who has got into debt

only 15 years old

deceitful

obsessed with officers, whose presence in Meryton


have influenced her greatly.

the lover of Lydia Bennet, whom he does eventually


marry after a financial settlement.

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

Mary is:

57

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 57

13/06/2011 13:34

Mr Collins

Charlotte Lucas

Mr Collins is:

Charlotte is:

the Bennets cousin

Elizabeths best friend

a vicar near Rosings (Lady Catherine de Bourghs estate)

neither particularly pretty nor particularly rich

the legal inheritor of Longfield

unmarried at the age of 27 when the novel starts

over-formal in his manner and obsequious

sensible, but unromantic about marriage

a comical figure due to his social blunders

keen to marry for the sake of being married

the wife of Mr Collins after he has been turned down


by Elizabeth.

thoughtless and lacking in Christian charity

prepared to change the target of his marriage plans


when he is turned down.

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

Caroline Bingley
Caroline is:

Georgiana Darcy
Georgiana is:

Darcys younger sister

extremely pretty

very shy

the sister of Mr Bingley

very musical

very snobbish, rude, prejudiced and ill-mannered

romantically inclined towards Mr Darcy

navely falls for Wickhams charm and nearly elopes


with him

jealous of Elizabeth.

devoted to her brother.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

The Gardiners

Lady Catherine is:

The Gardiners are:

a very wealthy lady

the aunt and uncle of the Bennet girls

the aunt of Mr Darcy

able to offer essential assistance after Lydia elopes

the owner of the Rosings estate

proud and obsessed with social standing

willing to be seen as having given Wickham money to


marry Lydia, to keep Darcys help a secret

haughty, controlling and domineering

the patron of Mr Collins

closely involved in the developing relationship


between Darcy and Elizabeth.

opposed to Darcys interest in Elizabeth, believing him


promised to her sickly daughter.

Themes
Courtship, proposals and marriage
Austens interest in the subject of marriage is shown in her study of the
relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet and also in the treatment of Mr Collins
and Charlotte Lucas. However, even more of the novel is focused on the processes
that take place prior to marriage, and the way in which people set about trying to
get married: how and why men propose to women, and how their proposals are
responded to. This focus allows her to examine the place of marriage in society and
the range of attitudes to marriage that the different characters possess. She
contrasts true love matches and romantic attachments (see opposite) with
practical, financial or businesslike propositions, such as that of Charlotte Lucas and
58

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 58

13/06/2011 13:34

Mr Collins. Her attitudes are shown by the sceptical comment: Happiness in


marriage is entirely a matter of chance. Charlotte saw marriage as something that
she needed to have any status and security and therefore she could not be choosy
about her husband.
Love
Just as there are marriages without love, so there is also the scandal of love without
marriage, in the case of Lydia and Wickham, although finally the situation is
rescued by marriage. Lydias running off and living with her lover was seen as a
terrible disgrace for the family. This contrasts strongly with the two examples in the
novel of loving marriages, that between Jane and Bingley, and the central focus of
the novel, the eventual triumph of love leading to the marriage of Elizabeth and
Darcy.

The fact that Austen chose this title, after originally calling the novel First
Impressions, shows how important she thought these two undesirable qualities
were in the lives of her characters. Pride, closely associated with the arrogance of
wealth and class in some cases, is clearly seen in several characters, but none more
so than Darcy although it could be said that Elizabeths pride is severely wounded
by his initial attitude to her. The word prejudice is nowadays associated
particularly with discrimination and bias against other people because of matters
such as their ethnic background: so-called racial prejudice. The word essentially
means pre-judging a person or event, so it is linked to the idea of first
impressions, Austens original title. Her idea is clearly that initial impressions can
cloud peoples judgement and make them unable to see a persons true qualities
and this certainly applies strongly to both central characters in the novel.
Society and social class
Austen wrote at a time when the divisions based on class were seen as vitally
important and people largely stayed within their own class. She realised that when
the class boundaries were broken things could prove difficult and be, for a novelist,
full of interest, particularly if someone from the upper class were to mix with
someone from what we might call the middle or even upper middle classes.

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

Pride and prejudice

The upper classes were so called because they were the richest members of society,
and their wealth came from owning a great deal of land, which they had inherited
through their families (the aristocracy), at a time before the main impact of the
Industrial Revolution, which made many other people rich either through running
businesses or through trading. Even the Bingleys were not thought of by some as
true upper class, because their fortune was derived from trade, which meant that
some of the landed aristocracy could be quite snobbish (and prejudiced) towards
them. Lady Catherine De Bourgh particularly represents this traditional sense of
her own superiority: she looks down on the Bennets, who clearly do not match up
to her social standards. Elizabeth refuses to be overawed by her attitudes, as she is
the daughter of a gentleman, but Mr Collins behaviour shows how the general
expectation was that such grand ladies would be treated in a very deferential way
by other classes. The novel has numerous examples of how society expected people
to behave, and how easy it was to do the wrong thing.
59

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 59

13/06/2011 13:34

Authors craft

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

Setting

Figure 2.3 A large country house, similar to Darcy's


estate, Pemberley.

A feature of Austens writing is her portrayal of interiors: scenes take place in


ballrooms, drawing rooms or other rooms in houses grand or less grand, like that
of the Bennets. In a novel with so many female characters, most in the same family,
it is inevitable that much of the action and speaking takes place indoors, as the
lives of women were mainly conducted indoors. However, the novel is not by any
means confined to interiors, and there are notable scenes conducted out of doors.
Elizabeth, in particular, is keen on getting out and about, and the incident with the
muddy hem of her dress, when she walks to Netherfield to see her sister Jane, who
is sick, is of interest not least for the reactions it causes. Elizabeth shows her
independence and unwillingness to be trapped by social convention, but this shocks
conservative upper-class attitudes. Another way the novel widens its scope is
through Jane Austens use of journeys, either in the nearby area, or the journeys
of Elizabeth, which include the fateful one to Darcys estate, Pemberley, or other
characters to other parts of the country. These add interest and variety and prevent
it from being a novel entirely trapped in the small local world of Longbourn and
Meryton. The elopement of Lydia and Wickham may in part suggest a desire to
escape from their small world, and there is also the journey taken to find them once
they have eloped.
Observation of people and society
Austen is admired particularly for the accurate and at times ruthless way she
observes and portrays her characters and their behaviour. The novel includes many
examples of how, either through narrative, her description of characters, or their
dialogue, the tone of voice behind the words spoken can be heard. These qualities
perhaps help to explain why, some two hundred years after they were written, her
novels are still so popular when turned into films and television adaptations. These
are often very successful because of the memorable nature of the characters, such
as Mrs Bennet, whom Austen observes wickedly and with devastating effect.
Narrative voices
Austen is very much the omniscient narrator who controls the events and
comments on them, especially indirectly. However, she also employs different ways
of moving the action forward, especially through the use of letters at various points
to show the characters reactions and attitudes. She also uses irony in her
comments and descriptions, right from the start of the novel (see section opposite
on humour and irony).
Look at Activity 1 opposite for more on Austens use of letters as a form of narrative.

Language
Tone of voice
We have seen how important tone of voice is in the words spoken by the
characters. This is also true in the narrative of the text.

60

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 60

13/06/2011 13:34

Humour and irony


The use of irony (which has been defined as the contrast between appearance and
reality) is one of Austens main ways of introducing humour, and it is used above
all to laugh at the foolish or hypocritical ways of some of the characters she has
created. Austen often uses her characters, notably Mr Bennet and Elizabeth, the
daughter who shares her fathers ironic sense of humour, as her own narrative
voice. The reader realises that words cannot be taken at face value indeed, they
often carry the opposite meaning to that which they apparently bear. It is
important to look out for examples of irony, especially when they mock characters
weaknesses, and observe how they contribute to an understanding of the novel.
The fact that the very first sentence is written with heavy irony should alert the
reader to what is to come.

First, check that you know where the letters appear, what they say, what they tell
us about the writers and what their effect is on the characters receiving them.
Think about the differences in tone and style. Then choose one letter and write
notes about its significance in relation to theme, plot and character. (You may
wish to choose Darcys letter to Elizabeth or the letter from Mr Collins to Mr
Bennet before visiting him.) Pick out some key phrases and write a comment on
their significance. The first example has been given for you.

Key phrase

Significance

Mr Collins letter to Mr Bennet: I


feel it my duty to promote and
establish the blessing of peace in all
families within the reach of my
influence.

This shows Mr Collins to speak in a


very long-winded way, full of
himself (self-righteous) and
patronising.

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

Activity 1: Understanding the text

Activity 2: Understanding the text


Go through the text and make a record of who goes where and why. Then focus
on Elizabeths journey to Pemberley and write about the way Austen sets up the
meeting between Elizabeth and Darcy and its importance for their relationship.

Activity 3: Thinking about the characters


Which characters display pride and how does this affect their actions and
relationships with others? List examples of statements by characters who show
pride and also what Jane Austen, as narrator, says about them.

61

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 61

13/06/2011 13:34

Activity 4: Thinking about the characters


It has already been suggested that one of the ways Austen presents her characters
is through dialogue. Choose any two characters and, focusing directly on what
they say (and how you think they say it), show what aspects of their personality
emerge from their words. If working with a partner, take two different characters
and compare your findings, checking whether you agree with each others
conclusions.

Some questions to consider

Chapter 2: Understanding the prose texts

1. Think about the way in which Mr Bennet reacts to his life in a house with so
many women. How sympathetic do you think Jane Austen wishes us to be
towards him?
2. Look closely at the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth during the course
of the novel, and write about its importance in the novel.
3. Does Austens character of Mr Collins have any redeeming features, or is he
there purely to be a figure of fun?
4. Which qualities does Jane Austen seem to admire and which does she dislike
in the society she portrays?

62

M02_ENGL_SB_6750__CH02.indd 62

13/06/2011 13:34