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Filling Station

Filling Station

by Elizabeth Bishop

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 7-9

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,

  • The speaker doesn't say "the" father, but "father." This line, for a moment, throws a wrench in our understanding of what's going on here. We figured the speaker was an outsider. Are we wrong? It seems like she could be talking about her very own father here.
  • "Monkey suit" is a nickname for a formal suit (it's not a compliment). This one is super-dirty, and doesn't fit him well at all. 
  • Our speaker uses the description "oil-soaked" in the first stanza to describe the filling station. She's using it again to describe the people in the filling station.
  • This oil has really gotten into every nook and cranny of this place. 
  • The fact that the father's suit is dirty and doesn't fit well maybe means he's poor and can't afford a better one. The way that it "cuts him under the arms," makes us flinch a little. Frankly, the suit sounds more than a little uncomfortable, and we can't help but pity the man who wears it. He sounds awkward and unkempt.

Lines 10-11

and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him

  • Our question about the father is cleared up. The speaker is not part of the filling station family; she is an outsider like we originally thought, and now she's describing the whole family.
  • The sons are quick and saucy. Saucy means many different things: flippant, or bold and lively, or sexually suggestive. It's probably safe to apply any and all of these definitions of "saucy" to these sons. 
  • They're helping the father though, so it seems they're probably employees of the filling station. 
  • Instead of describing these sons as "oil-soaked," our speaker simply describes them as "greasy." Sure, they probably are covered in oil, but it also helps us understand what kind of folks these sons are. Remember the greasers from Grease?

Lines 12-13

(it's a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

  • Confirmed. It's a family-run station. 
  • Take note of those parentheses, too. Parentheses, like exclamation points, are also on the rarer side in poetry. They make it feel like a side-comment or like the speaker's voice is lowering a bit.
  • In this case, the speaker is using the parentheses to indicate that she's summing up what we know so far. This is a family run gas station and—oh, that's right—it's dirty.
  • Line 13 is sneakier than you might originally think. It's probably referring the station again as being super-dirty, but it very likely refers to the family, too. They, like the filling station, are all dirtied up.
  • That means we've got another dose of judgment from the speaker. Dirty place and a dirty family. Why do you think she continues to harp on how dirty everything is? How do the repetitions of "dirty" and "oil-soaked" so far in the poem make us feel?
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