As we discussed in class today, one of the main thing that I noticed when reading this poem was the oddity that she was with her Aunt “Consuelo” at the dentist and not with her mother or her father. I began to wonder why Elizabeth Bishop would choose to put this detail into her poem, since as we discussed in class, she doesn’t have an Aunt Consuelo. So clearly she intentionally chose to fill the role many would assign to a parent. Why would she do this?
On a closer look I realized that maybe she did this because it simply is necessary. For the main paint of this poem is the pivotal moment where she opens the copy of National Geographic and sees the naked woman with the “horrifying” breasts and begins to think on how this image effects her. I believe that had she been with her mother or her father in this moment she wouldn’t have been allowed to experience this moment. For she would have been to terrified of her parent catching her to look at this image to truly have the opportunity to inspect how these images made her feel. Being the embodiment of the social norms which are pressing in on her and telling her what she can and can’t be, Elizabeth certainly wouldn’t have been able to explore her feelings at this sight and, in a small way, begin to discover her own sexuality. For such a concept as homosexuality was certainly culturally unacceptable in this time period and had a parent seen her at this moment they certainly would have punished her for such actions and potential thoughts. The parent wouldn’t even necessarily have had to catch Elizabeth to suppress her thoughts. A parents mere presence nearby could repress such feelings out of fear of being caught and punished.
Such an effect would not be created by the presence of an aunt. For an aunt does not possess the same role as a teacher of moral and social standards. Thus they are not responsible to correct any thoughts or actions which may be seen as inappropriate by society. Also, the aunt’s name being Consuelo would come into play in this situation because from this one may likely assume that she is a Hispanic woman and thus likely an outsider in the largely WASP population of Worcester, Massachusetts. Being an outsider who is suppressed and disliked by society Aunt Consuelo would be even less likely than an Aunt Ruth or Elizabeth to try and instruct the young Elizabeth in societal norms for these things have likely suppressed her as well. Therefore, the absence of a parent and the presence of an Aunt Consuelo in this story are crucial for they make the main event, Elizabeth’s own inspection of her reaction to the image of the naked woman, to happen.