How the theme of prejudice is dealt with in ‘Telephone Conversation’ and in ‘You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly’

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Last updated: November 18, 2019

The poems Telephone Conversation and you will be hearing from us shortly both deal with prejudice and discrimination, however they both deal with different types. In Telephone Conversation we see racial prejudice against an African man looking for a flat, the woman is very blunt and rude. In You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly we see general prejudice in a job interview in which the speaker is patronising and very offensive. Telephone conversation is structured by one long stanza, a continuous casual conversation showing both peoples thoughts, and is an enjambment.

In the first line we see the idea of the poem is a house-hunt. The man says immediately about his race, ‘I am African’ suggesting that he has been in that situation before. He pictures the woman while awaiting her response, he also writes ‘silence’ her silence shows that the woman feels superior to him. When the woman responds she shocks him when asking ‘how dark’ he is overcome with disbelief being asked his specific skin colour. He is embarrassed when he does not answer her straight away ‘Shamed/ By ill-mannered silence, surrender’ suggesting his politeness.The repetition of the word red, show his anger and emphasise the injustice of the situation, other uses of colour show the racism involved where the woman repeats ‘very dark’ and ‘very light’ here she is suggesting that the darker his skin the worse he is. In the conversation the woman feels superior to him this is shown especially at the beginning of the poem, ‘silence transmission’ her lack of response shows this, we also see that judgements are made here.

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He imagines her and stereotypes her as a middle classed snobby woman, as she generally stereotypes him as a ‘typical’ black man.The male voice is polite through the poem however towards the end his tone becomes sarcastic; he is obviously becoming more and more frustrated with constantly being asked how dark he is. When the woman emphasises on how dark he is, she covers her rudeness with sarcasm. We see that she doesn’t want the conversation so is rude and degrading. When he answers ‘West African Sepia’ she becomes ‘spectroscopic’ she doesn’t know what he means and so her mask slips with her having to admit to this ‘don’t know what that is’ her ignorance shines through and she looses control of the conversation.The woman assumes the worst when he says he is ‘like brunette’ stating ‘that’s dark isn’t it’. The man then becomes sarcastic when giving her a description of his colour using specific distinguished colours such as brunette, peroxide blonde and black. At the end of the poem he says to the woman ‘wouldn’t you rather see for yourself’ he wants her to look beyond his colour and see his personality, he wants to be seen as a person not being dismissed over the phone because of his colour.

However when he suggests this she is offended that he has reversed the conversation and so she will hang up.Unlike telephone conversation, you will be hearing from us shortly uses very formal language and Standard English; with the speaker there is an air of authority suggesting that what they say is right. The poem has a layout in which we do not see the applicants answer but there is a pause where they are talking.

This starts out as quite a realistic interview but rapidly becomes surreal and personal. Unlike the woman in telephone conversation the speaker is patronising, however both are offensive to the person they are talking to. We also see in this poem all the prejudices you may come across all together.The poem has many questions, most of them being rhetorical, putting the applicant down.

The first stanza is asking the applicant about the demands of the job, immediately putting them off. The speaker then says ‘ah’ showing a lack of interest. The second stanza is asking about qualifications, they have negative doubts. This is patronising to the applicant, basically saying do you think you’re qualified, ‘Not, we must admit, precisely what we had in mind’ this suggests the applicant is not good enough, they want someone who is perfect, but no one is perfect.The third stanza is where the poem starts to become discriminatory and offensive, the speaker is asking the applicant about her age and asks her ‘to make your own comment about that, too? ‘ they want her to defend it but you cant defend your age, they are also discriminating against the older generations.

They say that they want a particular age that they want somebody with a level of ‘immaturity’ they are once again looking for the perfect person. The fourth stanza becomes personal, asking her about her looks. The speaker points out to her that the work ‘involves contact with the actual public?Here she is implying that the applicant is too ugly to deal with the public and that she is not fit to be seen.

The tone is distantly formal, hiding how offensive she is actually being. The fifth stanza the speaker is attacking her speech, saying once again that she is not good enough and possibly making the applicant scared to speak. The speaker next makes a harsh comment on the applicant saying ‘were you educated? ‘ following it on with ‘ we mean, of course, where were you educated’ they said that on purpose implying that she had bad schooling and saying they don’t think she’s clever.The speaker also asks the applicant what a handicap it is to her, once again hinting that her qualifications are no good.

The last stanza starts with ‘Married, children, we see’ this is irrelevant to the job and shows that they are not impressed. The speaker then goes on to say that her ‘desire to perpetuate what had better not have happened at all’ this is very offensive, she is saying to the applicant that she should not have had any children, that she herself should not have been born, this insults not only the applicant but her whole family.We then see assumptions made when the speaker sees that the applicant lives in a bad area, saying that they don’t ask about ‘domestic diasters’ that ‘shimmer behind that vaguely unsuitable address’ this is also very offensive and surreal to what an interview would be. The last line says ‘So glad we agree’ the speaker wants the applicant to agree that she is a waste of space. The poem has an ingratiating, negative and sarcastic tone, the speaker is constantly patronising and offensive to the applicant making assumptions and prejudices about her looks, age, gender, accent and so on.

The applicant has no chance to say her thoughts. This is different from telephone conversation to the extent that in this the applicant did not control the prejudgements made, the man in telephone conversation did, in this we see general prejudgment to telephone conversation that has specific racial prejudice. However they are similar as in both the speaker and the woman are very blunt, rude, unfriendly and sarcastic, also being offensive with no real reason as neither personally know the individual they are talking to.

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