Places Discussed

Manhattan apartment building

Manhattan apartment building. Ordinary brownstone tenement, crowded with roughly a dozen families in New York City’s Manhattan borough. Although the stage directions indicate the geographic location only as “a mean quarter of New York,” Elmer Rice later revealed in his autobiography that he and designer Jo Mielziner had modeled this particular facade on an actual brownstone located on Sixty-fifth Street. The stage directions further indicate that this is an “ugly brownstone” built in the 1890’s, surrounded by a storage warehouse on stage left and a building being demolished on stage right. The most prominent features of this street scene are “a ‘stoop’ of four shallow stone steps flanked on either side by a curved stone balustrade,” the apartment’s vestibule just inside the front door (always open) at the top of the steps, the windows of the janitor’s basement apartment, and the six narrow windows of the first-floor apartments, through which some of the residents can be seen. The windows of the apartments located on the upper floors are not visible.

As an example of social realism, Street Scene relies on its detailed stage setting to evoke an atmosphere of everyday life in New York, not only visually but aurally. According to the stage directions, the sounds of the city should be heard as constant background noise, from the distant roar of elevated trains and rattling trucks, to the barking of dogs and murmurs of New Yorkers at work and play over the course of twenty-four hours on a sweltering June day.

Historical Context

In 1929, the United States was on the verge of transition from the Jazz Age to the Great Depression. The 1920s were a complicated decade in...

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Literary Style

Street Scene is a drama that takes place in New York City in contemporary time (the late 1920s). The date is a hot...

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Compare and Contrast

1929: The primary entertainment in the home is the radio. Over ten million households (about half of the country) have radios in 1929,...

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Topics for Further Study

• Research paintings that are ‘‘street scenes,’’ perhaps landscapes of Claude Lorrain, a French artist who influenced Rice when he...

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Media Adaptations

Street Scene was adapted for film by Rice, who wrote the screenplay. The film was directed by King Vidor and starred Sylvia Sidney as...

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What Do I Read Next?

The Adding Machine is a play by Rice that was first produced in 1923. The story focuses on how a wage slave, Zero, is affected by...

(The entire section is 96 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Arliss, Laurie, Mary Cassata, and Thomas Skill, ‘‘Dyadic Interaction on the Daytime Serials: ‘‘How Men and Women...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Durham, Frank. Elmer Rice. New York: Twayne, 1970. Discusses the long career of Elmer Rice as a microcosm of the history of dramatic writing in the United States. Centers on Rice’s employment of types and techniques as an accommodation of the changing tastes and artistic demands of the theater.

Gould, Jean. “Elmer Rice.” In Modern American Playwrights. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Focuses on Rice’s background in law and its incorporation in his plots. Considers his experiments with form as efforts to find a new method of dramaturgy. Asserts that both The Adding Machine and Street Scene are indictments of...

(The entire section is 249 words.)