‘Blackout’ by Roger Mais Essay

’Blackout’ is a short story by Roger Mais. It is set in Jamaica and is about racism and the contrast of two different races, sexes and cultures. The story starts off explaining the blackout in the city and the general atmosphere of uncomfortable and tense over the city. At this point the story builds an expectation of some sort of conflict. An American woman was waiting at a bus stop. Suprisingly she was not bothered by the darkness, and she was not nervous.

A black man slowly approaches her and asks for a light for his cigarette. As she does not have matches she offers her cigarette and as he thanks her she flicks the cigarette away. She does that because she is disgusted that a Black man touched her cigarette and therefore she doesn’t want to smoke it anymore. After the flicking, there’s a moment of discomfort and she asks him why he was still there. He replies with an apology as a comment on her action.

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He stays and keeps talking about her apparent wealth and as he talks she becomes more uncomfortable. The conversation between the two then focuses on gender and race.

At that moment the reader can sense that actually the woman is interested in the current situation and she might actually be looking for an adventure, but he tells her that she is not his type of women which undermines her. During the conversation the reader can also see that the woman has some very racist thoughts. After a while he sees the bus coming and points at it. She gets on the bus and as it starts moving, she urges herself to look back at him and challenge her prejudices, but thinking of the society and worrying about how unacceptable it would seem she can’t succeed and doesn’t look back while the man picks up the cigarette from the gutter. During this short story there is always this feeling of menace and some kind of threat which is created by the blackout and the odd conversation between the two. This feeling is created especially at the beggining, introduction of the story when the blackout and the loneliness were being described by Mais. He used words and phrases such as; wave of panic, bands of hooligans roaming the streets after dark and assaulting unprotected women, slinking black shadow, to reinforce his point.

Telephone Conversation

‘Telephone Conversation’ by Wole Soyinka, the poet talks about two people on the phone and the story goes on to narrate how the African man is looking for a house and the landlady has proposed a considerable price for the same. The poem strikes a positive note as the man gets to know that his privacy won’t be hampered as the landlady doesn’t stay on the premises. The African man is happy to know that and just before he makes up his mind to consider the offer, he drops in to mention that he is black. On the other end of the line, there was nothing but silence which the African man takes it to be an impolite gesture of refusal. However, the silence is soon broken as the landlady starts to speak again asking him to explain exactly how dark he is. First, the man think that he might have misheard the question but when the landlady repeats, he understands that this is something very important for her to know before she allows him to rent her house. This is something that came out entirely devastating for the African man and for a moment he felt disgusted with the question and fancies himself to be a machine, like the phone and that he has been reduced to being a button on the phone.

He could also smell the foul from her words and he sees “red’ everywhere all around. The idea of Telephone Conversation is to depict how brutal it can be for a man who is subjected to racial discrimination. The Afro-American man is reduced to shame by the sudden silence from the other side and he gets into a state of make belief where he sarcastically thinks that the lady broke her silence and gave him option to choose and define ‘how dark” he is. “Like chocolate, or dark or light?” Then, he goes on to answer that he is defined as “West African sepia” in his passport. The lady not knowing how dark it could be didn’t want to embarrass the man further by resorting to silence. So, she asks him to define what he means. The man replies, that it is almost similar to being a brunette but a dark brunette.

All this while, the man has been holding on to codes of formality which breaks loose at the landlady’s insensitiveness. The African man now shouts out loud saying that he is black but he is not that black for anyone to be put to shame. He also says that the soles of his feet and the palms of his hand are all white but he is a fool that he sits on his rear which has turned black due to friction. He knows that the landlady will never be convinced with his black complexion and he senses that she might slam down the receiver on him. At such a crucial juncture, he makes a desperate and silly attempt to plead her to come and take a good look at him but couldn’t help the situation from getting worse. Finally, the landlady slams down the receiver on his face.


‘Harlem’ by Langston Hughes reflects the post World War II mood of many African Americans. The Great Depression was over, the war was over, but for African Americans the dream, whatever particular form it took, was still being deferred. Whether one’s dream is as mundane as hitting the numbers or as noble as hoping to see one’s children reared properly, Langston Hughes takes them all seriously; he takes the deferral of each dream to heart. Harlem simply asks, and provides a series of disturbing answer to the questions, “what happens to a dream deferred?” A closer reading reveals the essential disunity of the poem. It is a ground of unresolved conflict. Five of the six answers to the opening questions are interrogative rather than declarative sentences. The ‘dream deferred’ is the long- postponed and frustrated dream of African Americans; a dream of freedom, equality, dignity, opportunity and success. This poem concentrates, on possible reaction to the deferral of a dream. The whole poem (Harlem) is built in the structure of rhetoric. The speaker of the poem is black poet. Black people were given the dreams of equity and equality. But these dreams never came true.

Despite legal, political and social consensus to abolish the apartheid, black people could never experience the indiscriminate society. In other worlds, their dream never came true. Blacks are promised dreams of equality, justice, freedom, indiscrimination, but not fulfilled. They are delayed, deferred and postponed. Only promissory note has been given but has never been brought into reality.The speaker rhetorically suggests that the dreams will explode and destroy all the limitations imposed upon them. After that the society of their dream will be born. When the dream is postponed or deferred or delayed, it brings frustration, it dries up like a raisin in the sun but there is wet inside, likewise it stinks like rotten meat, it becomes fester like a sore and one day it will explode and cause larger social damages. The poem is in the form of a series of questions, a certain inhabitant of Harlem asks. The first image in the poem is “dream dries up like a raisin”.

The simile likens the original dream to a grape, which is sound, juicy, green and fresh since the dream has been neglected for too long, it has probably dried up. The next image in the poem “fester like” a sore and then run” conveys a sense of infection and pain. Comparing the dream to a sore of a body, the poet suggests that unfulfilled dreams become part of us, like a longstanding injury that has gathered pus. The word “fester” connotes something decay and “run” literally refers to pus. From this viewpoint of the speaker, this denotes to the pain that one has when one’s dreams always defers. A postponed dream is like a painful injury that begins to be infected. The next image “Does it stink like rotten meat” intensified the sense of disgust.

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