In “Happy August the Tenth,” Williams shows through the use of carefully selected details that it is the small things in one’s day-to-day existence that lead to immediate tensions among people. The story also suggests that it is elemental anger rather than the small occurrences that precipitate the bickering that most people have to deal with essentially. The bickering is a symptom of deep anger. Perhaps this realization has led Elphinstone to go to the psychiatrist, but even the psychiatrist has his limits. In Elphinstone’s August the tenth session with him, he dismisses her when they are not even halfway through the session. On the mundane level, this act has economic implications because Elphinstone is paying for the hour; on a different level, it suggests that there are times when people cannot even pay a professional to put up with them.
Williams understood tension and depicted it with an accuracy that helps to define him as a literary master. For example, during the bickering between Elphinstone and Horne, “another pause occurred in the conversation. Both of them made little noises in their throats and took little sips of coffee and didn’t glance at each other; the warm air trembled between them.” Williams makes optimal use of every prop available to him. The heat of August, the futility of August, a time when many people have abandoned the city to go on holiday, work for him as the heat of New Orleans in the summer worked for him in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).
Elphinstone and Horne have a parrot, Lorita, which is permitted to move about the apartment at will, but which apparently does not know that it can fly. During the story, it confines itself voluntarily to its “summer palace,” its cage out on the balcony. Elphinstone and Horne are just as able to get out of their confining situation as Lorita is, but they apparently do not know that they, too, are free. Indeed, their freedom is merely physical. They are not free in spirit, and as the story ends, it is clear that they never will be. The best they can hope for is that they will have each other, that their interdependence will keep them in their little brownstone cage, bickering with each other just as Lorita, in her summer palace, makes clucking sounds and whistles.