The Bath

by

Janet Frame

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The Bath Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Janet Frame's The Bath. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Janet Frame

Janet Frame grew up as one of five children in a working-class family in New Zealand. Her father was on a railway crew and her mother was a maid in the writer Katherine Mansfield’s house. Frame’s upbringing was marked by the tragic deaths of two sisters in separate drowning incidents and her brother’s struggle with epilepsy. To escape these hardships, Frame went to school to become a teacher in 1943, but this career ended after she attempted suicide. For the next eight years, she received various diagnoses, and was in and out of mental institutions. Her first collection of short stories won a national literary prize days before she was to have a lobotomy; this was a surprising honor that fortunately cancelled the procedure. Many psychologists encouraged Frame to pursue writing instead of psychological treatment, which she did. Frame’s literary success is particularly remarkable today for its having arisen out of the oppression she faced during a time when the mentally ill were treated as if they weren’t human beings. Her experience inspired the themes of death, madness, isolation, and inequality that distinguish her writings. Her work is internationally renowned and spans the genres of fiction, autobiography, poetry, and young-adult fiction, and she received many awards, including the Order of New Zealand.
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Historical Context of The Bath

The Great Depression, World War I, and the Industrial Revolution were highly influential to Janet Frame and her contemporaries. It was a time of upheaval that disrupted society’s norms and catalyzed Modernism, a artistic movement characterized by stylistic experimentation and subjects of isolation, alienation, and disorder. As a result, Modernist literature often probes the inner psyches of characters in an attempt to illustrate the trauma of the changing modern world. Janet Frame’s work combines stream-of-consciousness (a Modernist style) and realism, the strict and unsentimental account of reality and hardship.

Other Books Related to The Bath

Janet Frame’s work is influenced in part by stream-of-consciousness writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce who explored the inner thoughts of their characters. Much of Frame’s prose is reminiscent of Woolf’s lyrical style and use of imagery, and the first line of “The Bath” pays homage to the first line of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” is also a tragic story about how trapped some women are in their everyday lives. Perhaps most clearly, Frame’s legacy resembles that of her contemporary, Sylvia Plath, whose struggle with mental illness also deeply affected her work, leading her into themes of madness, darkness, and alienation.
Key Facts about The Bath
  • Full Title: The Bath
  • When Written: 1965
  • Where Written: New Zealand
  • When Published: 1965 individually, and later in 1983 as part of the collection You Are Now Entering the Human Heart
  • Literary Period: Modern Period
  • Genre: Realism, Frame Story, Horror Story
  • Setting: The woman’s house and the cemetery by the sea (in Dunedin, New Zealand)
  • Climax: The woman cannot get out of the bathtub and realizes she’s not self-sufficient anymore
  • Antagonist: The bathtub/the struggles of old age
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Bath

Based on real life. “The Bath” is based on a real occurrence. The widow of Frame’s uncle was once unable to get herself out of her bathtub and would have died from exposure had her neighbor not found her.

Fatal mistreatment. Janet Frame spent time in the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, an institution in New Zealand that is infamous for its cruel conditions. Around the time of Frame’s seclusion there, a fatal fire killed 37 patients who had been locked inside an outbuilding.