Study Guide

Filling Station Themes

  • Appearances

    This "Filling Station" ain't pretty. We find out right away how dirty it is, and Bishop doesn't ever let it go. Of course some amount of grease should be expected in a filling station, whose main service is oil changes. But Bishop seems to think it's worth explaining that this place is the greasiest of the greasy; the oil has permeated every object and every person (and pet) in the joint. Though the place is pretty gross looking, that doesn't necessarily make it altogether awful, though. While the opening judgment never really fades, Bishop makes room for a more complicated verdict on the station.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. Why make such a big deal about how dirty the filling station is? Aren't they all dirty? What's so special about this particular filling station?
    2. Do you think Bishop exaggerates the filth at all? If so, when? And why would she do this? 
    3. For a poem about a filling station, there seems to be very little description of mechanical things like pumps, and tools. Why do you think Bishop focused on seemingly less important details, like the furniture or the begonia, for example? 
    4. What effect did the description of what the father was wearing and what the sons looked like have on forming your opinion about the people in the filling station
    5. Does the speaker judge a book by its cover, or does she look past the dirty appearance?

    Chew on This

    Bishop makes such a big deal about how dirty the filling station is, in order to make a proper contrast with the home element. She intentionally trashes the place in order to make the small, sweet spots really shine.

    The speaker never changes her opinion about the place. From beginning to end she thinks it's a nasty hole, not habitable for human beings.

  • Family

    Lo and behold, a family lives under that layer of grease. And things only get greasier with each passing day, as these folks continue to pour it into ailing automobiles on a daily basis. The "Filling Station," we find out pretty early on, is family-run, by the father and his sons. The women in the family (if there are any) seem to be steering clear of the grease trap. Signs of family and home trickle their way down the poem: there's a porch, some furniture, a plant, and even a pet dog. If this place didn't look like the site of a huge oil spill, it might look like a normal house and home. Almost.

    Questions About Family

    1. When you find out the filling station is family-run, does it change your opinion of the place? Why or why not? 
    2. Do you think the absence of any women in the family picture is intentional? Suspicious? Are we supposed to think she's died or something?
    3. Besides the mention of the father and sons, what are some other indicators of family in this poem? 
    4. Given the information in the poem, would you guess this is a happy family, or an unhappy one? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The speaker is romanticizing the relationship with the young men and the owner of the station; they're actually not related at all. It was the speaker's assumption that the filling station was family run, just so she can make it seem nicer than it is.

    The whole point of this poem is to show that even though this place is run down, a family lives there, so there's actually a lot of love and happiness.

  • Love

    On first read, the last line of "Filling Station"—"Somebody loves us all"—seems to come out of nowhere. The majority of the poem's energy is spent on depicting the overall trashiness of the place. But after a closer look, you'll see the foundation for this last line had been building very quietly from early on in the poem. It begins when we find out it's a family-run station. And when the close of the poem starts up with the "Somebody" repetition, we see the care taken to make this nasty old place a home. What keeps it together (even if in a filthy state), it seems, is the love and care of the people living there.

    Questions About Love

    1. Are there specific items or images in the poem that give you the first hint of love in an otherwise critical poem? Which are they? And how do they achieve that effect? 
    2. Between people in the poem, are there any acts of love that you can identify? Where? ]
    3. What kind of love is there in this poem: romantic, familial, friendship? All of the above? How can you tell? 
    4. In your opinion, does the final line come out of nowhere or has it been properly built up?

    Chew on This

    The last line comes out of nowhere. It's the speaker's unrealistic fantasy that there's any love in this place. She should have stuck to the grease and grime rant that she was on in the first place.

    The love (last) line has been built not explicitly upon showings of love in the poem, but small showings of care—watering the plant, decorating the doily—and it's a perfect last statement to end the poem on.

  • Admiration

    The speaker of "Filling Station," believe it or not, admires this place. The admiration unfolds slowly, and even secretly, as if the speaker doesn't really want to own up to it. Bishop doesn't pull any punches in highlighting what is wrong with the place, and though it doesn't seem the speaker could love a place like this, it seems she clearly admires the family for making a home from it, for caring for the plant and the lazy dog. She might not love this joint, but she thinks it's pretty cool that they do.

    Questions About Admiration

    1. If we assume the speaker admires this place, why do you think she insults it so much? 
    2. Do you think the speaker's admiration for the filling station only comes toward the end of the poem, or do you think it's been with her all along? How can you tell?
    3. What do you think there is to admire about this place and these people? Anything?

    Chew on This

    The speaker admires the people in the filling station because they are capable of caring for a place that she could never appreciate (because it's too dirty and run-down).

    The speaker doesn't admire the family at all; in fact, she thinks she's superior to them.