In the Waiting Room

Elizabeth Bishop                             In the Waiting Room

Here Bishop uses simplistic words and phrases to tell the story. The incident in question happened when Bishop was six years old and that is the reason for the children like language. This poem is a question of identity and this is the reason for the opening line.

  • The next ten lines are very simplistic as they describe the action of going to and waiting in the waiting room. The child separate’s herself from everyone in the waiting room by referring to them as grown-ups. The child is trying to show herself as different from everyone else, an individual.
  • There is an element of pride in the child’s ability to read. Again separation from people but now people her own age. As a child it is the pictures of the magazine that fascinate her however there is an element of adult language as Bishop Recounts the tale.
  • We then come to the image of two explorers. With these we have cannibalistic activity and ornamental mutilation of women. It is the expose breasts however that make the child uncomfortable and she only reads on to hide her embarrassment and anxiety. The child is no longer as confident as she was in the opening lines and her attempt to distract herself by looking at the margins is only short lived.
  • The child is surprised by the shout but reassures us that her aunt had come to no harm as the shout was not long or loud. Even though the child is young she has already the ability to tell what kind of person her aunt is. It is however the child who screamed and this seems to catch the child by total surprise. Here we go back to the word ‘inside’ in line thirty six and realise that the inside was actually inside the child. It is a delayed reaction to the images in the magazine. The child is no longer sure about her security in life represented by the ‘I’ and ‘we’.
  • Remembering her impending seventh birthday is the child’s way of trying to steady her mind and thoughts. The child had tried to distinguish herself from the rest of the world but now she is one of them. The child scans the room to see if she differs from the rest. The idea of identity is now scary for the child.
  • It is the image of the breasts that seemed to have disturbed the child the most. They represent all women and what she herself might become. The child feels that she has lost her identity as the breasts ‘made us all just one’. The child lets us know that she knew all about how people were different but nothing about how they were so similar.
  • The child is clearly uncomfortable as the room is now getting too hot for her. The child feels like she is falling as her whole concept of people is destroyed. The child struggles to keep it together.

The reference to the war is world war one. The child has lost her ideas of identity and individualism but the world she lives in is still the same.


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