Study Guide

In the Waiting Room Language and Communication

By Elizabeth Bishop

Language and Communication

and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs (13-16)

The National Geographic has a hand in sparking Elizabeth's penetrating questions that come later in the poem. Elizabeth seems just as interested in the photos as in the articles, if not more so: the poem says that she "studied" the photographs.

And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date. (34-35)

National Geographic is famous for its yellow margins. After being overwhelmed by the photos, Elizabeth looks at the cover, as if to remind herself that everything she's seen is contained in the magazine. It's not part of her real life if it stays within the magazine's covers, right?

I—we—were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918. (50-53)

Elizabeth just can't stop thinking about the magazine. Even as she imagines herself falling, she still can't even look away from it.

What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one? (77-83)

The magazine makes a huge impression on Elizabeth. When she asks herself the big questions about humanity, she doesn't just include people from her real life, like her Aunt. She also includes the people from the magazine. She's never met them and she doesn't know much about them, but the magazine gives her access to another whole part of humanity. The people in the magazine are human, too.

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