Twenty-seven Wagons Full of Cotton, a one-act play in three scenes, begins and ends on that most southern of domestic architectural features, the front porch. The setting is Blue Mountain, Mississippi. Tennessee Williams, through detailed staging, requires enough appurtenances so that “the effect is not unlike a doll’s house.”
The play opens in early evening. The audience first sees Jake Meighan, “a fat man of sixty,” scurrying offstage with a can of coal oil as dogs bark in the distance. As he drives away, his wife, Flora, emerges from the house onto the porch in search of her white kid purse. The bovine Flora cries after her husband as “a cow moos in the distance with the same inflection.” At this point a distant explosion sounds, and various voices speculate about the noise. As Jake returns, Flora learns that the Syndicate Plantation has caught fire.
Flora berates Jake for leaving her with no Coca-Cola in the house, but Jake soon establishes his male dominance by treating his wife roughly. At this point it becomes apparent that theirs is something of a sadomasochistic relationship. He hurts her, and she seems to enjoy it. Jake had departed abruptly in order to blow up the Syndicate’s cotton gin so that he could profit from ginning the extra cotton. With considerable effort Jake fashions his alibi—he never, he repeats to Flora, left the front porch that evening. Flora’s reluctance to absorb Jake’s alibi suggests her stupidity and establishes her childlike innocence.
Scene 2 opens the same afternoon with Silva Vicarro, the superintendent of the Syndicate Plantation, joining Jake and Flora at their residence. Vicarro, a “rather small and wiry...
(The entire section is 699 words.)