Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” takes place in squalid, depressed section of New Orleans, with the play’s characters, Stanley Kowalski and his wife Stella inhabiting an apartment in a tenement slum. They are clearly living a low-income existence with minimal possessions and an absolute absence of any of the trappings of wealth or material comfort. Stanley’s life consists of work in an auto parts factory where he is sales. His dress and demeanor speak of a solid blue-collar existence in which work, drinking, bowling and sex comprise the basic components of his existence. Stella is a quiet, demure southern “belle” with minimal expectations of life, as is exemplified in the play’s opening scene when Stanley enters the apartment and, with a shout (“Catch! Meat!”), tosses a package of raw meat at her, the Freudian subtext clear. She is obviously pregnant, and seriously enamored of Stanley’s animalistic instincts:
“Stella: He smashed all the lightbulbs with the heel of my slipper.
Blanche: And you let him? Didn’t run, didn’t scream?
Stella: Actually, I was sorta thrilled by it.”
The characters are a product of the setting of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” This is as decrepit an example of urban blight is one is likely to encounter, although the French Quarter, where the neighborhood is set, was and remains the most culturally vibrant of the city. While Stanley and Stella are portrayed as poor and simple, they are representative of their neighborhood. Stanley’s friend, Mitch, is similar to Stanley in many ways, but lacks Stanley apparent virility and animal-like nature. Stella’s life consists mainly of tending to the apartment and taking care of Stanley. The arrival of Stella’s sister, Blanche, sets in motion cultural and psychological developments that threaten each of the character’s existence, at least in a mental sense. Blanche’s efforts at refining the apartment with minor flourishes [“Oh, look, we have created enchantment.”] are met with abject disdain by Stanley, whose two-room apartment is clearly his kingdom. Blanche is from another world, physically and mentally. Her descent into insanity, evident by her delusional asides – “Young, young man. Did anybody ever tell you you look like a young prince out of the ‘Arabian Nights’?” and “Please don’t get up” [addressing Stanley as she enters the room, to which Stanley replies “Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t get worried.”]
The setting of “A Streetcar Named Desire” evokes an image of the blue-collar existence in which Stanley and Stella live, and to which Blanche is unaccustomed. It provides the only atmosphere in which the action and dialogue could possibly take place.