An Analysis of Elizabeth Bishop's 12 O'Clock News

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An Analysis of Elizabeth Bishop's 12 O'Clock News

In “12 O’Clock News,” Elizabeth Bishop accentuates the difficulty involved in perceiving the “truth.” She utilizes a technique of constructing an exotic world out of objects that can be found in a newsroom. By defamiliarizing a newsroom, she questions our trust in what we perceive. Is it truly a journey to another world or just another perspective on something we are already familiar with? The intent of this transformation is to create a substitute for reality, analogous to the substitute reality which the media presents to us each day as its product, the “news.” The news media are capable of creating a world beyond what we see everyday, presenting us with what appears to be the truth about cultures we will never encounter firsthand. Bishop’s manipulation of a newsroom parallels the way the media distorts our perception of the world, and by doing so questions our ability to find our way out of this fog which is “reality.”

By choosing the newsroom to manipulate in “12 O’Clock News,” Bishop draws attention to the relationship between the news and the public. Bishop never directly admits that it is a newsroom with which she has defamiliarized us. One indication of the setting being a newsroom is the format in which she presents the information. Along the left margin, Bishop includes a title or subject matter for each stanza, similar to the inclusion of a headline for each news story. These titles serve as clues to the reality of what she is presenting, allowing or urging us to relate the two or to keep in mind that although the objects she presents seem foreign, they are actually common and known to us. Comparing the two creates a clouding of perception; although the truth or...

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...ndition of society. It is also somewhat optimistic since Bishop refers to the soldiers as “our opponents” or what we do not want to become. This alludes to the war that we must fight against ourselves to discern our path through the cloudy air that surrounds us. As much as we would like to believe this optimism, even that is unclear because Bishop delivers the entire poem with such skepticism that the words cannot be taken at face value. Is it possible to have a “superior vantage point,” or is this too optimistic? This “superior vantage point” could also be an admittance that Bishop herself is acting as the new media, throwing everything perceived throughout the poem into further question and cloudiness, leaving everything uncertain and up to us to elucidate.

Work Cited

* Elizabeth Bishop, “12 O’Clock News,” in Geography III (New York: Noonday Press, 1988).