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The Horrors of Society Illustrated in ‘Telephone Conversation’ by Wole Soyinka and ‘Prayer Before Birth’ by Louis Macneice

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In ‘Telephone Conversation’ we have a telephone conversation between a black man who wants to rent a room, from a white woman. We see that society is ignorant and racist. ‘Prayer Before Birth’ is a poem addressed to God from the point of view of an unborn baby who is scared to go into society. They both have negative views of society.

In ‘Prayer Before Birth’ society is presented as scary. The narrator is pleading and says ‘I fear’. She (no gender is specified as it is meant to symbolize all of humanity) is scared of ‘blood baths’. This uses alliteration and it is a metaphor. This could stand for all the violence that exists in the world – wars, murder, pain etc. She is scared of all the blood-shed that exists in the world. In some ways this seems to be hyperbole. However, when I actually think about my society, I realize that many people do have to deal with extreme violence that could be compared to a ‘blood bath’.

The poem uses enjambment which emphasizes the desperation overflowing from the narrator.

The desperate narrator also fears that society will force her to commit sins. She says ‘forgive me / For the sins that in me the world shall commit.’ She is scared of sinning but more than that she is scared of being forced to sin. In this quote, it is the ‘world’ committing the sin ‘in’ her. She seems to have no control over what her own adult self will do. We get the impression that society will make her into something she is not – it will ‘dragoon me into a lethal automaton’. In this metaphor the word ‘dragoon’ refers to being forced to do something. It was often used in the past when people were forced into the military, and so it makes me think that she will be forced to be violent. This is supported by the world ‘leth...


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...could also show his anger at how society treats him. The ‘omnibus squelching tar’ could also be symbolic of how he feels people like him are walked over and ‘squelched’ as though they are inferior.

Personal Responses

I was shocked by the representation of society in both of these poems. I personally found that ‘Telephone Conversation’ was more powerful as it seemed more realistic. It made me pity the man and I felt ashamed that there was open racism like that in my country. I found the vision of society in ‘Prayer Before Birth’ quite scary. It is a horrible idea that society can force you into being something other than yourself. However, I also felt like the speaker was making excuses for herself – we are all in control of our own actions and I do not feel that the white lady in ‘Telephone Conversation’ should be able to use society as an excuse for her actions.



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