What three things do you notice in "In the Waiting Room"?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Three noticeable things in "In the Waiting Room" are:

1) Adults dressed in winter wear.

Elizabeth notices the overcoats, trousers, and boots of the grown-ups in the waiting room. She tells us that it is winter-time in Worcester, Massachusetts and that the night is 'slush and cold' outside.

2) Magazines.

Elizabeth picks up and reads the National Geographic while she is waiting for her aunt at the dentist. The images of an active volcano, a 'dead man slung on a pole,' naked women with 'horrifying' breasts and necks wound with layers of wire, and 'Babies with pointed heads' fascinate her. Elizabeth finds herself unable to resist devouring the contents 'right straight through.'

3) Lamps.

The soon-to-be seven year old Elizabeth tells us that it gets dark early in the winter-time. Therefore, the waiting-room lamps are on. Later, she hears an exclamation of pain from her aunt and her discomfort at hearing this leads her to conclude that the bright waiting room has become too hot for her. The images of foreign peoples in the National Geographic magazine also lead the little girl to ponder the great questions of life, the interconnection of humanity, and where she fits in the grand scheme of things.

andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first and most obvious thing one notices is that the narrator is the only child in the dentist's waiting room. The implication is surely that she feels out of place, being surrounded by adults. She starts reading to keep herself occupied whilst waiting for her aunt. She then suddenly cries out. This unexpected and instinctive cry surprises her and she realises that she is no different to her aunt.

The second facet one is made aware of is that the narrator experiences a momentarily enhanced existential awareness. After she has read the National Geographic magazine from cover to cover, she suddenly realizes that she, and everyone else, was part of the same thing—that everyone shares the same reality, albeit in different ways. She questions the nature of her existence. Why should she be who she is, or anyone else for that matter, and what connects everyone?  

The third noticeable feature is that the speaker seems to go into some kind of a trance when she has the above experience. It is as as if she momentarily goes somewhere else. She somehow loses her bearings, but is soon back in reality. She then realizes that she is still in Worcester, Massachusetts, that the weather is cold, there is still a war going on, and it is 5 February 1918.

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In the Waiting Room

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