Study Guide

In the Waiting Room Youth

By Elizabeth Bishop


Elizabeth is acutely aware of the age difference between herself and the "grown-ups" of the poem – Aunt Consuelo, the patients in the waiting room, and the naked women in the National Geographic. She always seems to have a sense of herself as different from adults. Yet at the same time, she is asking herself some pretty grown-up questions about her place in the world and her connections to other human beings. She may not even be seven yet, but we sense that this Elizabeth is going to grow up to be a pretty smart gal. We even have the feeling that the events of "In the Waiting Room" are what starts Elizabeth's journey into adulthood.

Questions About Youth

  1. What are the relationships between Elizabeth and the various adults mentioned in the poem?
  2. Is it realistic for such a young girl to have such deep thoughts?
  3. Is Elizabeth afraid of growing up?
  4. What is the connection between the war and adulthood? Why does Elizabeth only mention the war in the final stanza?

Chew on This

Elizabeth sees the similarities between herself and the adults in the poem and is convinced that she will grow up to be like them.

Adults are totally foreign to Elizabeth, and she thinks that she'll never understand them or their lives.

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