The Bath by Janet Frame
In The Bath by Janet Frame we have the theme of loneliness, control, reliance, loss, struggle, mortality and connection. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Frame may be exploring the theme of loneliness. The old woman throughout the story is alone. When she gets stuck in the bath despite calling out for help nobody comes to assist her. When she is placing the flowers on her husband’s grave she is again alone. In fact that old woman is so alone in life that she appears to long for a time when she herself is dead. It is as though life has become one long difficulty for the old woman. She no longer has control over her body. The tasks she would like to perform. Something as simple as getting out of the bath or taking down a pot of jam from a shelf. Are no longer something that the old woman can do with ease. She has to rely on others to assist her. This may be significant as it suggests that time has caught up with the old woman. Yet she is very much alive when it comes to feeling loss. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the old woman tends to her husband’s grave on each anniversary of his death. The past is very much alive for the old woman. Whether she might like it to be or not.
Frame also appears to be exploring the theme of struggle. The old woman struggles with every task she performs. She also may struggle with the loss of her husband. Not only emotionally is she still attached to her husband as one would expect a widow to be. But she also relies on him physically. If he was still alive he would be able to help the old woman out of the bath. No longer would she have to struggle. The sense of struggle that the old woman feels would also lead the reader to believe that Frame is suggesting that life may be getting to be too much for the old woman. It is as though she wishes for her life to be over. Which would play on the theme of mortality. If anything the old woman longs to be dead such is the difficulty she incurs in life. Not only is the longing for death driven by loneliness but it is also the fact that the old woman’s body is wearing out. As mentioned she is no longer able to do the things she once was and is reliant on others to assist her. If anything there is no joy in the old woman’s life. Everything is a struggle that is tinged with sadness.
It may also be possible that the loss of her husband is just too much for the old woman. Though she attends his grave for his anniversary it is most likely that she is a frequent visitor to the grave. Even though Frame doesn’t give any details as to the type of relationship the old woman had with her husband there is still nonetheless a sense that the old woman loved and continues to love her husband. It may also be significant that the old woman can no longer enjoy the simple things in life (looking at the sky) as this suggests that the old woman may have given up on life. It is as though she has been defeated by her body and the fact that she is alone. Simple things are no longer simple for the old woman. Everything is an effort which may not be worth it to the old woman. She appears to be comfortable with the idea of death. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the fact that the old woman wishes she could fall asleep in the graveyard. It is as though the graveyard is the only place where the old woman is able to find peace. Also she would be near her husband.
The end of the story is also interesting as Frame through her description of the world around the old woman may be suggesting that life goes on regardless. The traffic still moves and people or strangers still have places to go. These observations may be important as it is through them that the reader senses that the old woman is no longer connected with the world. She is a stranger among strangers. It might be true that her nephew will come and stay with her but the old woman still longs to be dead. She sees no positivity in the world and if she does (nephew coming) it is soon beaten down by the negativity that the old woman feels about life. Whether it is the loneliness the old woman feels or the loss of her husband or even a combination of both the old woman does not appear to be enjoying the life she is living. Not only has her body let her down but her mind too lacks any sense of optimism. While many would like to live on forever in life this is not the case for the old woman. Any comfort that the old woman has felt in life is gone. She is alone, beaten and unable to live her life as she would like to.