Was the central conflict resloved at the end of "The Waiting Room" by Elizabeth Bishop?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Waiting Room" by Elizabeth Bishop describes a brief moment of existential crisis that a 6-year-old girl, the narrator, has while in the waiting room at a dentist's office.  As she reads through The National Geographic, she is fascinated and horrified by the images it contained, and it upsets her reality.  She wonders if she is like the people in the magazine, and as she is pained by it, she wonders if she is like her Aunt, with whom she arrived at the dentist.  She realizes that there are other people in the world that are not like her, and she also realizes that she is more like her aunt and her family than she would have liked to admit.

While pondering, Bishop describes the experience as a powerful one.  It felt as if she were "sliding beneath a big, black wave, and another, and another."  She grows uncomfortably hot.  She utters a mantra to ground herself:  "You will be seven in three days."  None of this works, and for a while, she is awash in the conflict of expanding her self-identity.

She is conflicted up until the very last stanza.  Right before that stanza she is still asking questions--why, what, how is this possible?  The last stanza seems to indicate a resolution.  The poem opened with her describing the waiting room, the weather outside, and her condition.  The poem ends the same way; Bishop mentions she is "back in it," meaning, the waiting room.  She feels her place in the world again, mentions the date, the war, and that all was "still" as it was before.  So, she learns, grows, and assimilates her newness back into the world she knew.  Her conflict, though maybe not "resolved," is at least processed and worked into her current worldview.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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In the Waiting Room

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