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A Streetcar Named Desire

by Tennessee Williams

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In what way does Tennessee Williams use sight, sound and a suggestion of smell to create atmosphere in the first long stage direction?

Williams uses sight, sound, and a suggestion of smell to create atmosphere. The sights he describes are those of a poor part of town which has an "attractive" raffish charm. The sounds are those of Negro entertainers at a barroom around the corner. Finally, Williams asks that the audience imagine that there is also a scent of bananas and coffee in the air—two things that were important for trade in New Orleans.

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Your question refers to Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire. The first long stage direction appears at the beginning of Scene One. The direction includes the following pertaining to "sight":

The section is poor but, unlike corresponding sections in other American cities, it has a raffish charm. The houses are mostly white frame, weathered grey, with rickety outside stairs and galleries and quaintly ornamented gables.

This is an effective description of a good part of New Orleans at the time the play was written. Stanley and Stella live in part of one of the old houses described. This characterizes them as working class people. Blanche DuBois, Stella's sister, is coming to live with them, and she will fail to see the "raffish charm" because she is used to something much better. This is one of the factors that will create conflict between Blanche and Stanley, and to a certain extent between Blanche and her sister.

The main sounds to be heard other than dialogue are "evoked by Negro entertainers at a barroom around the corner." Throughout the play the sound of a "tinny piano" will be heard being played "with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers." 

This "blue piano" expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here.

The stage directions suggest the presence of certain odors, although these are smells the author only asks the audience to imagine.

You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses and their faint redolence of bananas and coffee.

The "brown river," of course, would be the mighty Mississippi. Bananas and coffee would surely be two of the biggest imports to enter the United States through New Orleans. The bananas would come from the "banana republics" of Central America. The coffee would come from both Central and South America.

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