Describe the scene in Elizabeth Bishop's "Filling Station".

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The first person narrator in “Filling Station “ by Elizabeth Bishop describes a typical gasoline station of the latter half of the twentieth century.  The family-owned stations are hard to find in today’s world of convenience stores. The narrator takes an interest in the filling station because she is part of the family.

This business has apparently seen better days.  If the narrator is reliable, this is a filthy place.  Everything seems to be covered in an oily film.

Oh, but it is dirty!

—this little filling station,

oil-soaked, oil-permeated

to a disturbing, over-all

black translucency.

The gas station may be old and so busy that cleanliness is not a first priority.

The father is wearing a monkey suit according to the narrator.  The outfit is probably a pair of work overalls. The monkey suit phrase comes from the nickname for an auto mechanic, whose slang term is "grease monkey."  His overalls are too tight because they rub under his arms. The reader may wonder why he cannot afford a new pair, or he may have recently put on extra weight.

The father’s sons work at the station with him. According to the speaker, there are several sons. These boys work hard like their father. In addition, the sons are quick in their work but a little sassy in their attitudes.

The reader can imagine pulling into the station. Then, the driver would ask to fill it up with gasoline.  One of the sons would check the air in the tires.  Another one would check the oil and water under the hood.  The third son cleans the windshield.  The father finishes  filling up the tank; then, he tells the driver how much the gas cost because all the other service is free. That is how the filling stations used to work.

The summary of the second half of the poem includes a description of the family dog, which sits resting comfortably in a wicker chair on a cement slab. Although the narrator is a member of this family, she asks the question of whether the family lives in the filling station.  It is unclear where the family lives.

In the next three stanzas, the tone changes.  The narrator finds a little spot in the gas station, probably in the office, that is like an oasis in the desert. Someone has tried to fix a little area that looks rather homey; it has been given a feminine touch.

There is a nice table that is part of a matching set. On the table is a homemade crocheted doily. In addition, on the table is a begonia plant. The color in the area is provided by the comic books awaiting their readers.

The narrator wonders why these items are here.  Who made the doily, bought the plant, or moved in the table? Her answer becomes quite poignant.  She says to herself: “Somebody who loves us all.”

She does not tell the reader who that person is.  Obviously, it must be her mother who has gone away.  Possibly she has died or has just left.  The reader is left to wonder.   

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Discuss the impression portrayed  of the "Filling Station" by Elizabeth Bishop. 

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Filling Station” describes an obsolete place in the modern world.  This is a small, family owned gas station that puts the gas in the tank for the driver.  There is no convenience store or fast food eating attached to it.  It probably has a garage that is used to change the oil and fix tires for the customers. This may be a station in a small town that even houses the family in the back of the station.

In the beginning of the poem, the primary imagery that the speaker points up is the dirtiness that infiltrates everything.  It is so oily that it covers the entire area with a black film. Someone warns a customer to be careful when lighting a match around all of the oil and gas. The poet’s alliteration makes the image of the station come to life:

Oh, but it is dirty!
--this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.

Working in the filling station are the father and his sons.  There are things that make the reader feel that this station has seen better days.  The father wears an old coverall that is too tight and rubs his underarms.  Possibly, he cannot afford to buy a new one. His sons are described as quick and yet sarcastic. It is indeterminate how many sons are working since the poet uses the term several. Regardless, all of these hard working men are covered with grease and oil.  To the speaker, it is disgusting. 

The speaker asks the question if the family lives in the station.  She is a part of the family but in the beginning tries to disassociate herself from this dirty bunch. 

In the back of the pumps is a concrete porch that has wicker chairs on it.  There the family dog lounges comfortable in one of the chairs. This is the place that the workers sit when they have a spare moment. 

Inside the station, the narrator finds a different scene somewhat devoid of the dirt and grease. Someone has attempted to create a homey scene.  There is a table that comes from a set.  It is covered with a pink, hairy plant.  There is a homemade crocheted and embroidered doily. 

Alongside the other things on the table are comic books that provide the needed color for the area.  Somebody has used feminine touches to make a place that is unconnected to the outside world of the filling station. The important part comes at the end of the poem when the poet remarks that it is obvious that whoever created this little oasis loved this family.

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