Streetcar Named Desire

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Marie Gordon Studying a Modern Play

What does the play’s setting contribute to its dramatic effect?

A Streetcar Named Desire shows the extent to which the American South is less a geographical expression than an entire way of life. Even today, the South’s distinctive culture, food, literature and music have influenced the rest of the country immensely. Tennessee Williams explored the cultural and spiritual experience of the South, to which he belonged and in Streetcar he dramatizes a brutal culture clash between New Orleans industrial worker, Stan Kowalski, representing the new America and his aristocratic, intellectual rival, Blanche Dubois, representing the old.

The dramatic effects of Streetcar are obvious in the settings of the play; The Kowalskis’ flat and its surroundings as well as in the wider American context.

William’s stage directions are extremely detailed, almost cinematic in scope. The French Quarter of New Orleans is poor and run down, yet he manages to invest it with considerable beauty and poetry, full of life in all its aspects. He takes in strong colours, mentioning the blue/turquoise sky of spring and early summer, the smell of coffee and bananas from the warehouses; and the atmospheric jazz piano, a strong leitmotif in the play. The river and the railroad tracks suggest transportation, an important idea and commerce, a world only briefly glimpsed in what is primarily a domestic play. Elysian Fields is an appropriate name for the street, Elysium being the resting place for the blessed in Greek mythology. It is an ironic heaven that Blanche will be denied when she comes to stay with the Kowalskis. The visual aspect of the play was clearly very important to Tennessee Williams, the author, partly perhaps as a result of his interest in the cinema. His stage directions are detailed, using evocative imagery to convey how the dramatist envisaged the scene. The intention was to create an atmosphere that would heighten the...
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