Explore the Setting of "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Tennessee Williams' Classic Play Brought to Life in New Orleans

Set of A Streetcar Named Desire
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The setting for "A Streetcar Named Desire" is a simple, two-room flat in New Orleans. Yet it speaks to the dynamics of the characters and plot of this popular play and sets the stage for the complex drama that takes place.

An Overview of the Setting

"A Streetcar Named Desire" written by Tennessee Williams is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The year is 1947 - the same year in which the play was written.

  • All of the action of "A Streetcar Named Desire" takes place in on the first floor of a two-bedroom apartment.
  • The set is designed so that the audience can also see "outside" and observe characters on the street.

Blanche's View of New Orleans

There's a classic "Simpsons" episode in which Marge Simpson lands the role of Blanche DuBois in a musical version of "A Streetcar Named Desire". During the opening number, the Springfield cast sings:

New Orleans!
Stinking, rotten, vomiting, vile!
New Orleans!
Putrid, brackish, maggoty, foul!
New Orleans!
Crummy, lousy, rancid, and rank!

After the show aired, the Simpsons producers received a lot of complaints from Louisiana citizens. They were highly offended by the disparaging lyrics. Of course, the character of Blanche DuBois, the "faded Southern belle without a dime," would whole-heartedly agree with the cruel, satirical lyrics.

To her, New Orleans, the setting of " A Streetcar Named Desire,"  represents the ugliness of reality. To Blanche, the "crude" people that live on the street called Elysian Fields represent the decline of civilized culture.

Blanche, the tragic protagonist of Tennessee Williams' play, grew up on a plantation called Belle Reve (a French phrase meaning "beautiful dream"). Throughout her childhood, Blanche grew accustomed to gentility and wealth. As the estate's wealth evaporated and her loved ones died off, Blanche held on to fantasies and delusions - two things that are very difficult to cling to in the two-room apartment of her sister Stella and Stella's domineering husband Stanley Kowalski.

The Two-Room Flat

"A Streetcar Named Desire" takes place in 1947, two years after World War II. The entire play is staged in the cramped two-bedroom flat in a low-income area of the French Quarter. Stella has given up her life at Belle Reve in exchange for the exciting, passionate (and sometimes brutal) world that her husband Stanley has to offer.

Stanley Kowalski thinks of his small apartment as his kingdom. During the day, he works in a factory. At night he enjoys bowling, playing poker with his buddies, or making love to Stella. He sees Blanche as an intruder to his environment.

Blanche occupies the room adjacent to theirs - invading his privacy. Her garments are strewn about the furniture. She adorns lamps with paper lanterns to soften the glare of the light. Blanche hopes to soften the light in order to look younger; she also hopes to create a sense of magic and charm within the apartment. However, Stanley does not want her fantasy world to encroach upon his domain.

In "A Streetcar Named Desire", three is definitely a crowd, and the tightly-squeezed setting provides instant conflict.

Art and Cultural Diversity in the French Quarter

From another perspective, "A Streetcar Named Desire" can be seen as a thriving, exuberant atmosphere, one that nurtures an open-minded sense of community.

In the play's beginning, two minor female characters are chatting: one woman is black, the other white. The ease at which they communicate demonstrates the casual acceptance of diversity in the French Quarter.

In the low-income world of Stella and Stanley Kowalski, racial segregation appears non-existent, a sharp contrast to the elitist realms of the old South (and Blanche Dubois' childhood). As sympathetic as Blanche may appear, she often says intolerant remarks about class, sexuality (in the case of her homosexual husband who was devastated by her negative comments), and ethnicity. In fact, in a rare moment of political-correctness, Stanley insists that Blanche refer to him as an American (or at least Polish-American) rather than use the derogatory term: "Polack."

For all Blanche's preaching about poetry and art, she never acknowledges the beauty of the jazz and blues which permeate the setting. A uniquely American art form, the music of the blues provides a transition for many of the scenes within "Streetcar."

It could represent change and hope, but it goes unnoticed to Blanche's ears. Belle Reve's style of aristocracy has died away, and its art and gentile customs are no longer relevant to Kowalski's post-war America.

America After World War II

The war brought innumerable changes to American society. Millions of men traveled overseas to face the Axis powers, the greatest adversary of the free world. Millions of women joined the workforce and the war effort, many of them discovering for the first time their independence and tenacity.

After the war, most of the men returned to their jobs and most of the women, often reluctantly, returned to the roles as homemakers.

The setting of "A Streetcar Named Desire" betrays the post-war tension between the sexes. Stanley wants to dominate his home in the same way males had dominated American society before the war. Female characters like Blanche and Stella expect more than a life of servitude, just as thousands of women after World War II wanted to retain their new-found careers and sense of socio-economic self-worth.