Study Guide

In the Waiting Room Women and Femininity

By Elizabeth Bishop

Women and Femininity

Elizabeth has an intense reaction to the naked women in the magazine. We could even say that she overreacts to them. What's so horrifying about naked women? What exactly is so scary about their bare breasts? Maybe Elizabeth is simply scared by their otherness – by the differences between herself and these women. Maybe she's afraid of growing up and becoming sexually mature like they are. Or maybe she feels some kind of desire for or attraction to them, and is scared by that. One thing's for sure: Elizabeth's philosophical awakening in "In the Waiting Room" is tied to her experience of femininity in the magazine.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Why does Elizabeth find the breasts of the women "horrifying"?
  2. If she's so horrified, why doesn't Elizabeth look away from the photographs of these women?
  3. Elizabeth is at the dentist with her aunt, not her mother. Would this poem be different if she were with her mother instead?
  4. Is there some same-sex attraction going on in this poem? Or is Elizabeth too young to experience desire?

Chew on This

Elizabeth is horrified by the women's breasts because she is afraid of growing up and developing the signs of a physically mature women.

Elizabeth is horrified by the women's breasts because she is attracted to them and doesn't know what to do with these feelings.

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