I have written about “Sense of Place” before. I try to point out when an author uses the technique to create a character out of places like farms, towns or churches in a story. Sense of place can be grander like our famous Mississippi authors who use words like the Delta or South to conjure a feeling.
Sense of place is not necessarily a positive character either. Small towns have a reputation for being constrictive in “Coming of Age” stories. For instance, it was a cumulative of small town ideas that made Shelly run to the city. She could get lost in a city. In the city no one would know her name or her family, etc.
Last night I sat amongst likeminded Mississippians discussing the plays of Tennessee Williams in the Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale. Our leader, Professor Colby Kullman, instructs at Ole Miss. The plays we focused on were Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Streetcar Named Desire.
Since we were in Clarksdale, Colby spent time on the characters and their hometown connection. He had a lovely picture of the real Baby Doll who was a classy lady and not the floozy portrayed in the screenplay by the same name. We learned that Brick from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was the name of a bully that harassed little Williams in the neighborhood.
Colby startled me when he started talking about geopathology. I had never heard the term. It is defined in Chaudhuri’s book titled Staging Place as “the problem of place.” It, “informs realistic drama deeply, appearing as a series of ruptures and displacements in various orders of location, from the micro- to the macrospatial, from house to nature, with intermediary space concepts such as neighborhood, hometown, community, and country ranged in between.”
Instead of “Sense of Place” in Tennessee Williams’ drama there is the “Painful Politics of Place.” He used the Delta and its colorful inhabitants to create tension in his early plays. You might not see the loam of the fields or the lazy river through the stage windows, but they are there creating this negative force as palpable as an evil person.
On a positive note, although the plays depict a strangling of the natural self, they do provide Clarksdale with a steady stream of visitors. The world is fascinated by the Delta and people are willing to travel far to experience its sensations. Thank you, Tennessee Williams.