The Bath by Raymond Carver
In The Bath by Raymond Carver we have the theme of conflict, uncertainty, helplessness, fear and communication. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and is an early version of another Carver short story (A Small, Good Thing). One of the most striking things about the beginning of the story is that it becomes clear to the reader that Carver may be exploring the theme of communication (or the lack of it). Ann Weiss is in a baker’s shop ordering a cake for her son Scotty’s birthday. Though she tells the baker, who remains unnamed throughout the story, what she is looking for the baker says very little, assuring Ann that she has told him everything he needs to know. The baker’s reassurance is important because in some ways it is the only time in the story in which Ann (or her husband) are assured that everything is okay. At no other stage in the story is there a sense, particularly for Ann that things are or will be okay (when it comes to Scotty’s condition). If anything Ann remains uncertain throughout the story as to what will happen Scotty.
Carver continues to explore the theme of communication later on in the story. The following Monday, when Scotty is walking to school with his friend, Scotty tries to persuade his friend to tell him what he has bought him for his birthday however his friend doesn’t say anything. Also after Scotty has been hit by the car, his friend asks him what it was like to be hit by a car but Scotty doesn’t answer his friend. Again the idea of a lack of communication. There are further instances in the story in which there is a lack of communication. There is the instance in where Ann tells the technician ‘I don’t understand this,’ when the technician starts to take Scotty’s blood. Ann (as anyone would) expects some explanation from the technician but it is not forthcoming. He continues without discussion or explanation, to take Scotty’s blood.
Lack of communication is further explored when the baker makes his first phone call to the Weiss household and Scotty’s father answers the phone. He doesn’t know anything about a cake and ends up hanging up on the baker before he can find out what the call is about, though the reader is fully aware that it is the baker ringing to see why the cake has not been collected and also he wants to get his sixteen dollars. Another instance of the lack of communication within the story is when Scotty’s father is sitting beside Ann in the hospital, ‘he wanted to say something else. But there was no saying what it should be.’ Also when Ann sees Nelson’s parents, Nelson’s mother mistakes Ann for a doctor or nurse and says ‘Tell me now, lady.’ It is obvious to the reader, the fact that Ann is not a doctor or nurse, that there is nothing she can say.
There are also several instances in the story in whereby Carver explores the idea or theme of conflict (both external and internal). External conflicts would include the baker ringing the Weiss household. He wants his money. Though it may appear that he is acting selfishly, looking for the money, the reader must realise that the baker is unaware that Scotty has had an accident. Instances of internal conflict would include when Scotty’s father is sitting in the car, after driving home from the hospital. He is concerned about Scotty, so concerned that he is overcome with fear, ‘fear made him want a bath.’
Carver further explores the idea or theme of fear later in the story. When Ann is looking out the window in the hospital and makes believe she is the woman (who she sees in the car park) driving away from the hospital, the narrator tells the reader that Ann, ‘she was afraid.’ Fear is also explored again when Ann is leaving the hospital and is talking to Nelson’s parents. Though the reader is never told what is wrong with Nelson (again the idea of a lack of communication), it is obvious that Nelson’s parents are upset, worried and afraid. The idea of helplessness is also explored several times in the story. First there is the fact that Scotty’s father doesn’t know what to say to Ann in the hospital (as mentioned earlier). Also the reader learns that both of Scotty’s parents have been praying, such is their feeling of helplessness. Similarly with Nelson’s parents, there is not only a sense of worry but also a sense of helplessness, they still await news on Nelson’s condition.
The ending of the story is also interesting. The baker rings again and though Ann doesn’t realise it is the baker, the reader does. This is important (Ann not knowing who is calling) as it suggests that there is no resolution for either the baker (who is still looking to be paid) or Ann (who is looking to be told Scotty is better). If anything there is a sense that both the baker and Ann remain in conflict, though for the baker the conflict is external and for Ann it is internal (worried about Scotty). It is also ironic that a phone call (a form of communication) is used at the end of the story, ironic because neither person (baker or Ann) will hear what they need to hear.