The Bath

by

Janet Frame

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The Bathtub Symbol Analysis

The Bathtub Symbol Icon

The bathtub symbolizes the way in which elderly people become imprisoned in their own bodies. The first half of the story involves the elderly woman struggling to get out of the bathtub after her bath, as her body is no longer agile and cooperative enough for even minor physical feats. Trapped in the bathtub with nobody to help her, she is essentially alone with her aging body, finding her body not simply unreliable, but also her “enemy” and a “menace.” As she lays in the tub, unable to get out, the bathtub becomes akin to a grave; she has the sensation of being sucked into the earth when she drains the water, and afterwards she feels as though she is “under the earth” with wheels moving above her. It’s as though she’s been buried alive by her own body.

Importantly, though, the bathtub is not directly associated with death. The next day, when the woman visits the cemetery, she finds tremendous peace among the graves, showing that it wasn’t the tub’s association with graves that frightened her—instead, it was her helplessness. The woman associates peace and comfort with actual graves, whereas her life has a grave-like oppressiveness that she associates with the bathtub. Therefore, the bathtub represents the cruel prison that life becomes in one’s old age, particularly when one’s body won’t cooperate.

The Bathtub Quotes in The Bath

The The Bath quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bathtub. 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 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 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 Bathtub Symbol Timeline in The Bath

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bathtub appears in The Bath. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Bath
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
...hurt. Her hands are so weak that she can barely turn the taps on the bathtub. It’s a shame that she hasn’t been taking more baths lately, but it has become... (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 plans how she will surprise... (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 and feels pain in her shoulders. When... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
...After trying and failing again to get out, she starts beating the sides of the tub. Then she spends a half hour alternating between struggling to get out and resting her... (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 “the end or... (full context)
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Life, Death, and Social Class Theme Icon
...feels peaceful; she’s so far from the terror she felt last night getting out of the bath . Sitting at her parents’ grave, she doesn’t want to go home, as she’s enjoying... (full context)
Loneliness and Death Theme Icon
Struggle and Old Age Theme Icon
Life, Death, and Social Class Theme Icon
...grave getting narrower and narrower until it vanishes entirely and then becomes the “narrow confining” bathtub, waiting for a moment of vulnerability to trap her forever. (full context)