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In Response To:

EK Tan
American Poetry

In the Waiting Room
  In the poem "In the Waiting Room", the young speaker underwent an unusual experience which eventually changes her view of the world and herself.
  The poem starts with the speaker "in the dentist's waiting," waiting for her aunt who is with the dentist. The very first line in the first stanza clearly states the location, "In Worcester, Massachusetts," this is a very important point that is related to the theme of the poem, which will be discussed as the poem proceeds. Also, darkness, that is hinted in this stanza in " It was winter, It got dark/ early," will eventually develop into the uncertainty, and mystery of her own existence. Before the universal theme of the poem surfaces, the young speaker is seen surrounded by "íK grown-up people/ arctics and overcoats/ lamps and magazines"; she is not alone, there are human beings, like her, and products of civilization around her. These could be understood in the later part of the poem to be the connections, which bind everyone together as a whole.
  The poem moves on with the young speaker reading "the National Geographic." Seemingly, the photographs in the magazine are the first encounter of a different world for the young speaker. She saw volcanic eruption, which could be a foreseeing of her mental turmoil in the later part of the poem. Also, notice the recurring image of darkness, "black and full of ashes." Besides the volcano, the speaker came across some photographs of a different race, the Polynesian cannibals. She finds them strange and feels horrified looking at the naked breasts of the women. Upon the end of her reading, she glances at the date, which is stated at the yellow margin of the cover. She does this in order to find out whether is she reading an old magazine, for she could not convince herself that what she saw belongs to the present world she is in.
  At this instance, she is interrupted by her aunt's cry of pain. The cry not only interrupts her but also causes a confusion of identity in her. She realizes herself adopting the identity of her aunt. A sense of fear overcame her as she says, "I-we-were falling, falling." It is obvious in this line that she is confused of her identity, yet she denies being in uniformity with her aunt as she says, "we" and not "I." "Falling" is important here for that is the journey to her universal experience. She fears the idea of falling because she fears something might happen (uncertainty). The stanza ends with the specific date for the issue of National Geographic. This joins this stanza strongly to the first, especially to the part where she saw the naked women.
  The words she said to herself are her attempts to establish her own identity in order to keep herself from falling, "I was saying that to stop/ the sensation of falling off." "Sensation" is a word that reveals both her fear and curiosity to get to the bottom of the event. The "blue-black space" is the tunnel of uncertainty the young speaker is experiencing, and also the "black" hinted in the previous stanzas. Eventually her experiences in the previous stanza derive as the theme of the poem as she ponders over the notion, "you are one of them/ Why should you be one, too/ I scarcely dare to look/ to see what it was I was." She now realizes she has fallen into a larger human condition; however, unable to convince herself that she is just the same as the others, her aunt, and the naked black women with hanging breasts. Images of trousers, boots, lamps, etc, reappears, she began to search for the relation of the objects and people in her experience, with her own existence. What is this that "held us all together/ or made us all just one?" she asked. The answer is the identity as human beings, as a part of this world. Though the young speaker still ponders over a series of questions, she seems to gradually understand the meaning and purpose of this experience. Everyone is in one or another way connected to each other, for the world is a whole. She overhears "a cry of pain that could have/ got loud and worst but hadn't." This increased understanding of human experience also brought to her the idea of suffering and pain.
  "The waiting room was bright/ and too hot. It was sliding beneath a big black wave." The waiting room could actually be pictured as "the blue-black space" where the speaker was experiencing the fantasy and confusion, for a waiting room literary is attached with fear (fear of the upcoming unknown). In this stanza, the speaker starts to slide out of "the waiting room."
  In the last stanza, the speaker came back to reality and obtained stability. Upon experiencing the event she had her view changed. The National Geographic is actually a view of the world and the universe; to the speaker it provides the notion of people existing around the world. The recurring date "February, 1918" is to show evidence that the young speaker obtained an alternative view of the world within a short period.
  Indeed, the way we look at things varies our view of time and space. A moment or one time could have a lot of significance.

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