The tenement

The Morrisons’ home is ill-suited to a family of nine. Most of the action takes place in the kitchen, but we often see Maggie disappear to tend to her sleeping children beyond the curtain partition, or to soothe Bertie in the back parlour.

We also learn of the cramped conditions from Jenny, who describes sleeping in a bed-closet in aside a snorin aul wife.

The overall impression of the setting is that it is untidy and in disarray. We are told that Nappies hang on a string across the fireplace and the table, dresser etc, are in a clutter. We are reminded of the disorder when characters are often presented looking for things.

Edie, who needs to wash her neck, cannot find the flannel, and both Maggie and Edie have to search the house for a comb when she might have head lice. When Lily first enters -

She stands in the middle of the kitchen and surveys Maggie’s muddle, sighs, takes off her coat and ties a towel round her waist, rolls up her sleeves and wonders where to start.

The expression Maggie’s muddle is a significant one, as it implies the physical state of the home but also the metaphorical hectic and cluttered existence she leads.

Lily arrives and without any greeting readies herself to help which conveys the closeness of their relationship. The fact that she wonders where to start however, implies that there are so many difficulties - she doesn’t know how to help Maggie.

At the beginning of scenes throughout Act I and Act II, the stage directions tell us we are in the same tenement, in the same kitchen, looking in on the same family, in the same oppressive circumstances. This helps the audience to understand the monotony and unrelenting nature of Maggie’s life.

However, while the setting of Act III is also the same, it has improved as a result of John having a job. Now we see that the kitchen is clean, tidy and festive, Maggie is in a new dress and Granny smiles now and again.

This highlights the effect on the characters when the burden of poverty is lifted, even if only by a little - a certain clarity emerges from the chaotic midden.

There is also a connection between the setting and Maggie herself. While she inhabits a messy tenement, her physical appearance is also dishevelled.

Lily describes her as looking half-deid, but Maggie says she has no time to see to her looks.

The parallel is realised further in Act III when Maggie makes the decision to take the future of her family into her own hands by accepting Jenny’s money.

It is significant that this independent and assertive action, the first from Maggie in the play, is reflected by the potential move into a better and larger house that is more equipped to deal with a family of five young children.