Steam of the South:

A Look at the Heat found in the Setting of A Streetcar Named Desire

         Many elements are memorable in Elia Kazan's 1951 version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire; but what I found especially interesting was the weather climate that served as the backdrop for the movie. A Streetcar Named Desire takes place in the steamy French Quarter of New Orleans, which makes Kentucky's "hot and humid" summers look mild in comparison.

         The first thing I noticed about New Orleans in the movie is how hot it looked. Even though the movie was in black and white, one need not see the yellow rays of sunlight to be aware of how oppressive the heat was. But it was not just the heat; it was the mugginess of it at all. There is a scene later in the movie where Blanche (Vivien Leigh) runs outside at night, screaming in an effort to scare Harold (Karl Malden) away from the apartment. Even though it is night outside, one can still see that oppressive mugginess. It is shown in the people's faces. It is shown in their body language, which is slightly lazier and swankier than ours, even when they are excited about something.

         During one of our class discussions, Professor Roulston brought up the point that one of the most revolutionary things to happen to the South in the last 100 years was the advent of air conditioning. I thought about this. In the summer, whenever my friends and I are in a room with no air conditioning, we begin to complain. We get lazy. We get cranky. We get irritable. The heat affects our moods and our minds. For the South before the advent of air conditioning, however, this was a way of a life.

         It is important to remember that the effects of heat are not all negative, however. With the laziness inflicted by the heat comes a certain amount of relaxation--rules are probably followed less strictly in the oppressive heat. Inhibition is lowered. One's sexual drive may be enhanced. When a dog enters its mating season it is said to be in "heat"; and the word "heat," along with its numerous synonyms, is often used to describe love and lust. Interestingly, the word "heat" and its numerous synonyms are equally used to describe anger, rage, and hate. All of these elements can be found in A Streetcar Named Desire, and all of them are strengthened by the oppressive, muggy heat of New Orleans.

Ashley Sheikh

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