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 fact lies at the side of the stanza, what is presented seems almost entirely different. The title, “12 O’Clock News,” also suggests that the setting of the poem is a newsroom by referring both to the “reporting” of the surrounding area that we are reading and also to the function of the room and objects in the real world. The pile of manuscripts or the “slight landslide [that] occurred in the northwest about an hour ago” (lines 13-14)* links the surroundings with the newsroom. These discarded manuscripts are not found in a generic office setting.
Juxtaposing a real and fanciful interpretation of objects, Bishop separates each of the objects from the technological terms that ordinarily are used to describe them and depicts them with a naturalist language, which make the objects not readily recognizable without the label off to the side accompanying the description. Bishop adopts a naturalist language, which would usually be expected in a description of a rural or completely untouched area. By applying this language to various objects in the newsroom, she disillusions the reader with this created world. Using this technique, Bishop distances us from the familiar object in order to question our understanding of our...