Study Guide

Filling Station Appearances

By Elizabeth Bishop

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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.

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