Short Story Characters – “The Bath” and “Good Morning Wardrobe”
Question: With close reference to AT LEAST TWO short stories that you have studied, show how the author(s) have used the characters to present insights into the worlds the characters inhabit.
Social isolation in a societal world is an engaging theme explored by many short stories. Janet Frame has successfully done this in her story “The Bath” and Edith Campion has in “Good Morning Wardrobe” using similar techniques. The two authors explore social isolation by illustrating each main
character through descriptive imagery, writing structure, and internal monologue.
Firstly, the descriptive imagery that each writer uses successfully presents the main character of the story. Frame’s nameless old lady is presented as weakened with age and connotative imagery such as “grass-yellow as old baths are” reflect the character’s age and contrast with the “frost-white” of new baths. This contrast between old and new presents to the reader how the lady is trapped in an aged body, like a cage, a bath or a coffin that is impossible to step out of, all while the rest of her society members continue on living free and happy lives. This technique of contrasting descriptive imagery is also seen in “Good Morning Wardrobe” where Mrs Crimpton’s long dress of beige and old-fashioned hat all contrast with the short skirts and solid colours of the modern society. Mrs Crimpton is referred to as “the rare bird” and “a Spanish Galleon” which both illustrate the way she stands out in the crowd.
Descriptive imagery also gives the reader an insight into the way each character moves, as well as setting the atmosphere for the stories. In “the Bath”, the old lady’s movements are “slow and arduous” and often she is frightened by this. Frame incorporates revealing comparisons, for example, the bath rim is like the edge of a cliff, which gives the reader an insight into the tense world that the old lady inhabits. Mrs Crimpton’s movements are portrayed as unsure which reflects her abandonment and her personality, causing the reader to sympathise with her, “She teetered down the stairs, clinging to the banister-rail”.
Additionally, each writer’s story structure is important to reveal the different aspects of each main character’s worlds. Each story has two parts, in “The Bath” the old lady begins the story in her home where her life is mute and tense and there is an element of fear portrayed by Frame’s language. It is as if this world is the old lady’s personal reality, where life is something to fear and there is no stillness within her. The story then shifts to the cemetary where the old lady “didn’t want to go home” but rather wishes to stay in the serene atmosphere of death which is a notion that seems pleasing to her, “waiting for one moment…to claim her forever.”
Similarly in “Good morning Wardrobe”, Mrs Crimpton’s life begins in her hostel where she is alone and inhabits her true reality which she does not like. She “demanded the room to increase in size”. However, when the setting of the story shifts to Mrs Crimpton’s visit to town, the reader is given an insight into the imaginary life that she has created for herself, “I’ve just had lunch with my husband…” The structure of the stories is essential to portray the differences between each character’s personal worlds and their external world which are the results of social isolation.
Lastly, internal monologue is used by both writers to get inside each character’s mind. Such statements as “No one will know I’m in the bath and can’t get out” reveal a great deal about the tension that the old lady feels, and this is seen in Campion’s story several times when Mrs Crimpton judges herself and others, “nicely dressed, but those short skirts were common”. Internal monologue gives the readers a deepened understanding of the main characters of the stories and the worlds that they inhabit.
Both of the main characters in “The Bath” and “Good Morning Wardrobe” live on the edge of society, partially trapped by their own personal realities. These ideas about the characters and the worlds they live in are depicted through descriptive imagery, writing structure and internal monologue.
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