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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

Streetcar arrived on the stage in 1947. But don't assume that the story takes place in that year. Think of the story unfolding from May to September of any year you choose. It's true that Stanley and Mitch were army buddies in World War Two, but they could just as well be veterans of Vietnam or any other war.

The entire drama is played out on a single set. The street called Elysian Fields crosses the front of the stage. Through the transparent front wall of a shabby two-story structure, you see Stanley and Stella's flat, two rooms separated by a curtain. Beyond the apartment's rear wall, also transparent, you see the French Quarter of New Orleans.


Williams may have wanted you to feel that the drama enacted in the Kowalskis' flat was merely an extension of life in the city, and so he specified see-through walls in his stage directions. Outside you find railroad yards, a big water tank, empty lots and river docks-in short, nothing pretty or natural. In the characters you see another kind of ugliness: meanness, lying, hatred and more. Another possibility is that the transparent walls symbolize Williams' approach to the people in the play. It's not that you know them inside and out by the time the play ends, but that the characters' actions invite you to probe the inner workings of their hearts and minds.

Throughout the play you hear the sounds of the city. The tinny music of a "Blue Piano," suggesting sadness and lost love, recurs in several scenes. In addition, trains roar, radios blare, couples fight and make love. Windows and doors are kept open all summer, blurring the distinction between inside and outside. Stanley and his friends seem to have erased that distinction from their lives, too. Like animals in heat, they lack inhibition. Stanley especially lets it all hang out. He says whatever he thinks, regardless of the consequences.

If you know New Orleans, you know the French Quarter. It's an historic section of the city, a hive of narrow streets, alleyways, markets, coffee-houses, honky-tonks and shops of all kinds. It's known for its quaint charm. Elaborate wrought-iron balconies laced with flowers extend from the facades of numerous buildings. Some of the residents may live in squalor, but they put up a pretty front. In a sense, they may remind you of Blanche DuBois.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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