Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A play about loneliness, grief, suffering, and survival, The Laundromat sensitively explores a wide range of human emotion within the context of everyday life. Doing laundry in the middle of the night can be understood as a strategy of survival as well as a rather bleak metaphor for the human condition. Marsha Norman’s focus on female characters also indicates an interest in problems and emotional dynamics specific to women. Alberta and Deedee present images of women trapped by their own feelings of attachment to the men they love. As Deedee angrily comments, if their husbands “were home where they should be, we wouldn’t have to be here in this crappy laundromat” washing shirts in the middle of the night. So much of the dialogue alludes to Herb and Joe that these two absent men, as different from each other as Deedee is from Alberta, play a central and determining role in the drama.

From the opening of the play, the two women speak of their own mothers with ease and emotion and relate to each other as a mother-daughter pair. Alberta remembers reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) fifty times to her dying mother. Deedee, whose own silent and critical mother still does her wash, seems alternately delighted and infuriated by Alberta’s realistic, well-intentioned, and motherly advice. This mother-daughter dynamic explains why Deedee’s attraction to the black disc jockey who frequents the pool hall next door becomes a...

(The entire section is 469 words.)