The Bath

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “The Bath” (1981) by Raymond Carver. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it. 

Raymond Carver (1938-1988) was an American writer best known for his short stories. Many of Carver’s stories are written in the style called dirty realism, which presents people’s ordinary lives. The short story “The Bath” was published in 1981 in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Later on, Carver revised the story and published it under the name “A Small, Good Thing”.  


Here, you can read an extract from our study guide: 


The bath is an important symbol mentioned also in the title. For both spouses, the bath is a distraction which is meant to take their mind off Scotty. For Scotty’s father, the bath symbolizes washing his worries away. 

The Weiss’ family house is a symbol of guilt. Ann does not want to go to the house and rest, despite her husband’s insistence. She feels guilty leaving Scotty and, later on, she chooses to go to the house because of a superstition: “After a time she said, ‘Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe if I’m not here watching, he’ll wake up. Maybe it’s because I’m watching that he won’t.’ ” (p. 256, ll. 17-19). It could be also that the house reminds Ann of a normality she no longer has, which is why she does not want to go there while Scotty is in a coma.

The baker’s phone calls symbolize confusion and miscommunication. Scotty’s father does not know about the birthday cake, so the baker’s phone calls become confusing and harassing. Similarly, the baker does not know about Scotty’s accident and is only aware that a cake has not been picked up. The reason why he insists on calling is most likely because he is frustrated that he has wasted time and ingredients on a cake that has not been paid for.

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The Bath

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