The crux of "In the Waiting Room" is really the National Geographic magazine itself. Elizabeth seems quite proud of the fact that she can read this magazine for grown-ups at such a young age. It's her reading experience that opens her up to this whole new world of volcanoes, explorers, African people, etc. Let's just say that it's a good thing that the dentist's office had such interesting material. If Elizabeth were stuck reading Highlights or Soap Opera Digest, she probably wouldn't have had such an intense experience.
Questions About Language and Communication
How would this poem be different if Elizabeth were reading a different magazine? What's so special about National Geographic?
How would this poem be different if it took place today? Would Elizabeth be reading National Geographic on her iPad? Would that make a difference?
What is the relationship between identity and reading in the poem? Does Elizabeth form her identity around what she reads?
Which has a bigger impact on Elizabeth: the words in the magazine or the photographs? How are these types of communication different?
Chew on This
Photographs are more powerful than words. Elizabeth reacts to the photos she sees, not to the articles.
Words are more powerful than photographs. Bishop wrote a poem about this experience – she didn't take a photo or make a painting of it.