Based on Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1933, did folks in Maycomb bathe more than once a week?If the Maycomb courthouse has an outhouse, may I infer that it lacks indoor plumbing? If it lacks...

Based on Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1933, did folks in Maycomb bathe more than once a week?

If the Maycomb courthouse has an outhouse, may I infer that it lacks indoor plumbing? If it lacks indoor plumbing, may I infer that no one in Maycomb, Alabama in 1933 had indoor ; and and due to lack of plumbing, folks in Maycomb bathed once a week?

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I do not believe that one can infer with certainty that because the courthouse had only an outhouse that no one in Maycomb had indoor plumbing, and therefore, baths were limited to once a week.

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no mention of using an outhouse, the "necessary," or chamber pots in Maycomb. While there may not have been any bathroom facilities at the courthouse, this might well be because the town officials didn't feel it was not worth the investment of taxpayer money.

There are several reasons why I believe that houses in Maycomb proper (the town, not the outlying areas) would have had bathrooms; the biggest difficulty (I imagine) in having a "water closet," or W.C., would be the need to have water accessible to a house, as opposed to pulling water from a well.

First, when the fire takes out Miss Maudie's house in Chapter Eight, the men with the fire trucks arrive. At one point, another fire truck arrives in front of Stephanie Crawford's house:

There was no hydrant for another hose, and the men tried to soak her house with hand extinguishers.

The hydrant would indicate that there is underground water being carried into homes. Toilets have been around for thousands of years, but the versions we are used to today began to appear (and were patented) in the 1800s. Toilets would have required indoor plumbing. Even if there had been a forty-year gap between its introduction into households and its mainstreamed position in most houses, people of the Finch's social class would have had indoor plumbing by this point.

During the fire, it is noted that some of the men are out fighting the fire in bathrobes. (A bathrobe would infer, I believe, the need for special garments to wear coming out of the tub, but I can't imagine a garment would have been invented for a single day—once a week.) As no mention is made of hauling water to fill hipbaths, I think we can infer that there was indoor plumbing at this time with folks who were financially comfortable. Otherwise, why would they have needed bathrobes?

Scout seems to be familiar with bathing—the night before she and Jem go to Calpurnia's church (in Chapter Twelve), Cal scrubs her more than usual, even uses more water than usual. The bath water is not "shared," and the sense is that bathing is not an unusual occurrence. Though they might not bathe daily, I would imagine they did at least a couple of times a week, and always on Saturday night.

The mention of the Ewells and their washing habits seems to infer that running water was scarce in the country, as was a desire to be clean. The children came to school filthy (when they came). The Ewell children's faces in the window of their house are always dirty—not the case of those living in the center of Maycomb.  It is worth mentioning by the narrator that Bob Ewell shows up at court looking like he had washed for the occasion:

A shock of wispy new-washed hair stood up from his forehead...

Living next to the garbage dump, we can infer there is no indoor-plumbing, but water collected from a nearby stream. When Ewell takes the stand, the unusual sight of his cleanliness would indicate that indoor-plumbing, and therefore baths, were not common in their "home."

The well to do of the town (the Finches, Miss Maudie, Stephanie Crawford--even in curlers, and Dill) never appear out in public with dirt on their faces. Nothing in the novel convinces me that they bathe only once a week, based on what I could find.

 
Sources:
etotheeyepi's profile pic

etotheeyepi | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

I thnk the above post is a good answer.

My great grandmother votes for the saturday-night-bath theory because as a girl she bathed once a week in the kitchen in an steel tub into which her mother poured water heated on a cast-iron stove.

My grandfather, he son, thinks the courthouse outhouse might have been  the colored-only outhouse. 

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