Themes

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 836

Ethnic and Religious Intolerance
In Street Scene, many of the residents of the crowded tenement building express beliefs that are prejudiced and intolerant of their neighbors and others. Sitting on the brownstone’s front stoop, they deride the way those different from themselves conduct their lives. For example, in the first moments of the play, Mrs. Jones, one of the nonimmigrant residents of the building, says ‘‘What them foreigners don’t know about bringin’ up babies would fill a book’’ about Mrs. Olsen. Mrs. Olsen is an immigrant from Scandinavia. Mrs. Jones makes this statement to Mrs. Fiorentino, a German immigrant who is married to an Italian immigrant. Mrs. Fiorentino is slightly offended by the implication. Mrs. Jones also expresses intolerant beliefs about most everyone in the play.

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One of the more unpopular resident families in the tenement is the Kaplans. Elderly father Abraham, his daughter Shirley and son Sam are disliked by many of their neighbors for being Jewish as well as for holding radical political beliefs. Abraham Kaplan is a socialist who believes the capitalist economic system exploits workers. Many residents are intolerant of Mr. Kaplan and his beliefs, and blame Jewish people for various problems in their world. Similarly, most residents do not approve of the potential relationship between Sam Kaplan and Rose Maurrant. They tell Rose and her parents that they would never let their daughter become involved with someone who is Jewish. By depicting these kinds of prejudices and situations, Rice depicts the diversity of New York City’s populace and their beliefs. Not every aspect is positive.

Individual versus Machine
Throughout Street Scene, Rice underscores how oppressive the machine of modern urban life is. (The machines here are New York City, life in the tenement building, and the kind of jobs held by these lower middle class people.) The play is set on a hot day in June and many of the characters suffer from the heat. Because the characters reside in an unbearably close living situation, they are packed on top of one another, making the heat all the more oppressive. This situation also leaves them very little real privacy and, in many ways, limited opportunity. For example, everyone knows about Mrs. Maurrant’s affair with Steve Sankey, the milk company’s bill collection man. But she also might not be having the affair if the machine did not affect her husband, Mr. Maurrant, so deeply. Mr. Maurrant works as a stagehand and does not seem happy with his life. These tensions contribute to Street Scene’s tragic ending but do not end with the double murder. More tenants will move into the building, and those who live there will continue to be affected by these pressures.

Victim and Victimization; Choices and Consequences
The focal point—if there is one—of Street Scene ’s diffuse plot is the affair Mrs. Maurrant is having with Steve Sankey, the milk company’s bill collector, and its effect on the tenement. In many ways, Mrs. Maurrant is a victim of the city as well as an unhappy marriage. Mr. Maurrant is depicted as a rather loutish man who tries to control his family by the...

(The entire section contains 836 words.)

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