“The Laundromat” by Marsha Norman – Theatre Essay
“The Laundromat” by Marsha Norman is a one-act play that was written in 1979. Marsha Norman was born in 1947 to a fundamentalism Methodist family (Ingrid 1). Marsha had a very lonely childhood, which was often reflected in her work. “Her mothers religious views prohibited Norman from playing with
other children and watching television and movies, and she credits her loneliness as a child as the reason she became a writer” (Ingrid 1). “The Laundromat” is about two women, Alberta and Deedee who meet in a Laundromat and chat with one another while doing their laundry. Alberta is “a reserved women in her late fifties” who lost her husband Herb about a year ago and Deedee is a “restless twenty-year old) girl who is presently in a relationship with a man who is pursuing an affair.
Throughout the play Marsha Norman portrays Alberta and Deedee as two women who are in denial about an aspect of their life. Alberta is in denial that her husband Herb passed away and Deedee is in denial that her husband Joe is having an affair with another woman. Through psychoanalysis the two women are able to overcome their denial and come to terms with despair and loneliness.
“Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856 in a small town – Freiberg – in Moravia” (Boeree 2). Freud became very famous in his psychological studies of the personality. Alberta and Deedee use many defense mechanisms in trying to cope with their losses, the most prominent being denial. According to Freud, “Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is just too much to handle, the person just refuses to experience it” (Boeree 6). Freud also developed a method of therapy called psychoanalysis. Freud’s theory says that the mind is composed of the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious. “Freud said that the goal of therapy simply is ‘to make the unconscious conscious’” (Boeree 15).
Denial is a very dangerous defense mechanism because a person who is in denial does not ever come to terms with a very traumatizing experience. Alberta goes to the Laundromat to clean her husband Herb’s clothing from the night that he died. When Deedee asks Alberta if her husband works nights too, Alberta says, “Herb is out of town” (1059). A year after her husband passed away Alberta is still unable to tell Deedee that Herb is dead. Later in the conversation Deedee finds that Alberta “forgot” to put one shirt into the washing machine. When Deedee grabs the shirt and goes to throw it into the washer with the rest of Herbs clothing, Alberta takes the shirt away from her and says, “I don’t want to…it’s too…that stain will never…It needs to presoak. I forgot the Woolite” (1061). This would have been the perfect opportunity for Alberta to tell Deedee that her husband had passed away but she still does not.
According to Freud, the unconscious “…includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness, including many things that have their origins there, such as our drives or instincts, and things that are put there because we can’t bear to look at them, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma” (Boeree 15). When Alberta says that her husband is just away on business, she is keeping the fact that he is dead in her unconscious mind. Since psychoanalysis is about bringing feelings from the unconscious to the conscious, talking to Deedee is a form of psychoanalysis therapy. When Alberta is able to transfer this feeling to the conscious mind she is able to work on accepting her loss.
Deedee helps Alberta, through a form of psychoanalysis, bring her feelings and the truth to the conscious mind. Towards the end of the night, Alberta and Deedee seem to be growing more and more fond of one another. As Deedee finally tells Alberta about her husbands affair she impulsively says, “…Like he’s dead and now you worship the shirts he wore” (1072). When Deedee says this she suddenly realizes that Alberta’s husband is in fact dead and she feels terrible. Deedee apologizes saying, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnson, I really am sorry. You probably been plannin’ this night for a long time. Washin’ his things. And I barged in and spoiled it all” (1072). Alberta responds to the apology saying, “I’ve been avoiding it or a long time. Herb died last winter, the day before his birthday” (1072). This is what is called a Catharsis in psychoanalysis therapy. A catharsis is “…the sudden and dramatic outpouring of emotion that occurs when the trauma is resurrected” (Boeree 15). When Alberta finally tells Deedee the truth about Herb she is relieved to have told someone. Alberta’s “secret” is finally in her conscious mind and she is able to experience feelings and emotions about the event with another person. According to Freud this is a huge step towards the conclusion in psychoanalysis therapy.
In contrast to Alberta, Deedee is a young woman who is still learning about life and relationships. Deedee is in a relationship with a man named Joe who is having an affair with another woman. Joe tells Deedee that he is working a double shift when really he is going to the bowling alley and bowling with a beautiful blonde woman. Like Alberta, Deedee is also in denial about an aspect of her life. Deedee is in denial that her husband Joe is having an affair. When Deedee is telling Alberta about Joe, she tells Alberta that the reason he is out late is because of his job.
It’s all-the-time, he lately. He says people are buyin’ more trucks ‘cause farmers have to raise more cows ‘cause we got a population explosion going on. Really crummy, you know? People I don’t even know having babies mean Joe can’t come home at the right time. Don’t seem fair.
Even though Deedee has caught Joe cheating on her in the bowling alley, she does not tell Alberta the truth. By pretending that Joe is just working a double shift she is keeping her feelings and emotions in the unconscious mind.
As the night progresses, Deedee develops a liking for Alberta even though they do not have a lot in common. A TV review on “The Laundromat” writes “In ‘The Laundromat’ she is writing about two women, one old enough to be the other’s mother” (O’Connor C18). Even though the women are so far apart in age, their situation is very similar and they develop a relationship based on that. As the play comes to a conclusion, Deedee tells Alberta about her boyfriend’s affair and brings her feelings to the conscious, finally recognizing that she is not being treated right. When Deedee asks Alberta for advice on what to say to Joe when she confronts him about the affair, Alberta says “Your own face in the mirror is better company than a man who would eat a whole fried egg in one bite. But it won’t be easy” (1074). What Alberta is really saying is that Deedee is going to be lonely with or without her husband because he is never home and she knows that he has betrayed her. Deedee would be better off being lonely without letting her husband get the best of her. Through psychoanalysis, Alberta was able to help Deedee come to terms with her feelings and move them from the unconscious to the conscious mind.
According to Freud, insight is the last important step of psychoanalysis therapy. “Insight is being aware of the source of the emotion, of the original traumatic event” (Boeree 15). In the TV Review of “The Laundromat” in the NY Times, O’Connor writes, “Deedee is in a panic about her husband’s increasing indifference. ‘He makes me feel like I’m a TV set,’ she cries, ‘and he’s changed the channels’” (O’Connor 1). These lines are not included in the original play, but on the television version of the play Deedee is describing how the affair made her feel. Expressing the feelings associated with the affair is a form of insight. As Alberta is loading up her laundry basket she says, “Maybe, in a few months or next year sometime, I’ll be able to give these away. They’re nice things” (1074). Since Alberta has finally come to terms with her husband Herbs death she feels that she finally will be able to move on and take the final steps in mourning her husband. This final step of psychoanalysis is a key step to finally being able to cope with life and its obstacles.
In conclusion, through psychoanalysis the two women are able to overcome their denial and come to terms with despair and loneliness. Alberta and Deedee were two very different women. Alberta was very refined and in her late fifties while Deedee was a mess and only twenty years old. Despite their differences the two women found something in common that brought them closer and enabled them to help one another. By talking about their feelings and their obstacles with their husbands at the Laundromat, Alberta and Deedee did something that takes years and years of therapy for others to accomplish. Alberta came to terms with her husband Herbs death and Deedee came to terms with her husband having an affair with another women. Denial is a very dangerous defense mechanism that the mind uses to block out an event in one’s life that is very difficult to deal with. Psychoanalysis is a powerful therapy that can be used to overcome denial and deal with reality and life’s obstacles. Reluctantly, Alberta and Deedee met one another and they were able to mediate one another and discover their problems in the conscious mind.