The Bath

by

Janet Frame

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The Woman Character Analysis

The protagonist of “The Bath” is an elderly widow who lives alone. Each year on the anniversary of his death, she visits the grave of her late husband, John. At the story’s opening, she is preparing to visit his grave the next day, so she runs herself a bath. In her struggle to get out of the bath, readers learn how desperate her situation is: her aging body will no longer cooperate, so she’s trapped in the tub. She’s completely alone, and nobody hears her when she calls for help, which causes her to panic, lament her loneliness, and even wish she were dead. Every day is a struggle for her, since once simple tasks (such as carrying coal buckets, hanging the laundry, and taking public transportation) now cause her a great deal of physical and psychological pain. In addition, she seems to have nobody to comfort her, as accepting help from the people in her life—especially her cruel niece—seems to humiliate her. In the second half of the story, though, the widow goes to the cemetery, where she finds peace for the only time in the story. She tends her late husband’s grave and visits the graves of her parents, who are buried nearby. At home, the woman feels inept and afraid, but in the cemetery—where she finds herself capable of physical labor, like weeding her husband’s plot—she finds purpose, contentment, and companionship with the dead. She longs to remain in the cemetery and seems to find death less frightening than returning home to all the tasks that torment her, particularly bathing in the tub.

The Woman Quotes in The Bath

The The Bath quotes below are all either spoken by The Woman or refer to The Woman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Cambridge University Press edition of The Bath published in 2018.
The Bath Quotes

She had bought the flowers to force herself to make the journey that each year became more hazardous, from the walk to the bus stop, the change of buses at the Octagon, to the bitterness of the winds blowing from the open sea across almost unsheltered rows of tombstones; and the tiredness that overcame her when it was time to return home when she longed to find a place beside the graves, in the soft grass, and fall asleep.

Related Characters: The Woman
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] she tried to think of it calmly, without dread, telling herself that when the time came she would be very careful, taking the process step by step, surprising her bad back and shoulder and powerless wrists into performing feats they might usually rebel against […]

Related Characters: The Woman
Related Symbols: The Bathtub
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

Again she leaned forward; again her grip loosened as if iron hands had deliberately uncurled her stiffened blue fingers from their trembling hold. Her heart began to beat faster, her breath came more quickly, her mouth was dry.

Related Characters: The Woman
Related Symbols: The Bathtub
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

Where were the people, the traffic? Then she had a strange feeling of being under the earth, of a throbbing in her head like wheels going over the earth above her.

Related Characters: The Woman
Related Symbols: The Bathtub
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

Loneliness welled in her. If John were here, she thought, if we were sharing our old age, helping each other, this would never have happened.

Related Characters: The Woman, John (Husband)
Related Symbols: The Bathtub
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

She remembered with a sense of the world narrowing and growing darker, like a tunnel, the incredulous almost despising look on the face of her niece when in answer to the comment ‘How beautiful the clouds are in Dunedin! These big billowing white and grey clouds - don't you think, Auntie?’

She had said, her disappointment at the misery of things putting a sharpness in her voice, ‘I never look at the clouds!’

Related Characters: The Woman, The Niece
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

Now she did not dare look up. There was enough to attend to down and around - the cracks and hollows in the footpath, the patches of frost and ice and the potholes in the roads; the approaching cars and motorcycles; and now, after all the outside menaces, the inner menace of her own body.

Related Characters: The Woman
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

In all her years of visiting the cemetery she had never known the wind so mild. On an arm of the peninsula exposed to the winds from two stretches of sea, the cemetery had always been a place to crouch shivering in overcoat and scarf while the flowers were set on the grave and the narrow garden cleared of weeds. Today, everything was different.

Related Characters: The Woman
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

Then she ran the sparkling ice-cold water into the jars and balancing them carefully one in each hand she walked back to the grave where she shook the daffodils, anemones, red leaves from their waxed paper and dividing them put half in one jar, half in the other.

Related Characters: The Woman, John (Husband)
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

There were no flowers on the grave, only the feathery sea-grass soft to the touch, lit with gold in the sun. There was no sound but the sound of the sea and the one row of fir trees on the brow of the hill. She felt the peace inside her; the nightmare of the evening before seemed far away, seemed not to have happened; the senseless terrifying struggle to get out of a bath!

Related Characters: The Woman, The Parents
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

She waited, trying to capture the image of peace. She saw only her husband’s grave, made narrower, the spring garden whittled to a thin strip; then it vanished and she was left with the image of the bathroom, of the narrow confining bath grass-yellow as old baths are, not frost-white, waiting, waiting, for one moment of inattention, weakness, pain, to claim her for ever.

Related Characters: The Woman, John (Husband)
Related Symbols: The Bathtub
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Bath LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Bath PDF

The Woman Character Timeline in The Bath

The timeline below shows where the character The Woman appears in The Bath. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Bath
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
A woman brings home cut flowers, since tomorrow is the seventeenth anniversary of her husband’s death. She... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
That evening, as the woman cooks her dinner, stokes the fire, and heats water for her bath, she moves slowly;... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
The woman cautiously lowers herself into the bath, already dreading when she’ll have to get out. She... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
After draining the bathwater, the woman sits naked and shivering in the tub. She notices how slippery its surface has become... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
The woman makes another serious effort to grab the chair and hoist herself out, but it fails.... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Finally, the woman “escape[s]” the bathtub. But she knows that she’ll never take another bath alone; this is... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Exhausted and lonely, the woman lies in bed wishing she would die. The “slow progression of difficulties” is a “kind... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
...her niece came to help her and remarked on the beauty of the clouds, the woman replied that she never looks at clouds and the niece acted “incredulous” and “despising.” But... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
The next day, the weather is surprisingly warm. Normally, when the woman visits the cemetery, the wind whips across the ocean, making her shiver through her coat.... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Life, Death, and Social Class Theme Icon
As she leaves the cemetery, the woman walks by her parents’ grave. It’s a roomier grave than her husband’s, as they had... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Life, Death, and Social Class Theme Icon
The woman is thankful that her parents were able to have such a comfortable grave, unlike her... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Life, Death, and Social Class Theme Icon
The woman doesn’t want to undertake her arduous journey home, returning to the struggles of her daily... (full context)