?The short story ‘The Bath’ by Janet Frame tells of an old lady who has been widowed and now lives alone. It tells of the small, meaningless tasks that now make up her existence. She grieves for lost loved ones and frequents their graves. In this particular story, the mediocre activity of having a bath becomes a hugely difficult task for the woman as she struggles to get out once finished. The main themes portrayed in this story are: loneliness, the plight of the elderly and helplessness.
The theme of loneliness is shown through the graves. One of the only things the old woman can do now is visit the graves of her loved ones as she has no other way to remember them and no people left in her life to provide company for her. She plants flowers on their graves showing tender care and talks to the graves as if they were living people. These actions make the reader feel sorry for the old lady, and the companionship she gets from the graves shows just how lonely she really is.
This leads to the next theme, the plight of the elderly. Partway through the story it becomes apparent that the old woman cannot get herself out of the bath as a result of her weakened, elderly body. This proves to be incredibly frustrating for the old woman as this really is a very simple task but try as she might she simply cannot get out of the bath. As well as feeling sorry for the old woman the reader also begins to feel scared for her as she is all alone and cannot call for help.
The author also uses symbolism to help get across the message of the old woman’s plight. The bath is described as being in a dilapidated state and this parallels the state of the woman’s frail body as she struggles to pull herself out of the bath. This in turn leads to the last and possibly most important theme; helplessness. In the prior paragraphs I have talked about all the things that have happened to the old woman but the one important factor that links them all together is that she is powerless to change any of it.
Her body is failing her and she can’t help it, all her loved ones are dead and she can’t help it, and most of all, she is dying too, and she can’t help it. Symbols of death are all around her. The cemetery, a decaying house, and the bath. Being trapped in the bath makes it coffin-like, representing where she will eventually lie forever. The story of the old woman makes us fully aware of what growing old is really like. It is not graceful or fun, it is scary and lonely.