Where It All Goes Down
A living room in the suburbs of London, England
Ionesco begins the script by describing the setting as "A middle-class English interior, with English armchairs" (1). We also learn that it is "An English evening" (1). He doesn't say much else about the room accept that there's an "English clock" which "strikes 17 English strokes" (1). You may have noticed a certain word repeated over and over again in these stage directions. Yep, you're right – it's "English." This probably means that the play is set in England.
If the set design doesn't inform the audience that the play is set in England from the moment the lights come up, Mrs. Smith's first lines make it pretty darn clear. She tells us that her family has eaten "English salad" and that the children have "drank English water" (2). And, just in case anyone was confused, she says, "we live in the suburbs of London" (2). So, yeah, the play is definitely set in England. Wow, we are so smart.
The play is often described as a satire of the English middle class, making its suburban setting particularly appropriate. The text certainly seems to skewer middle-class values and social norms throughout. Check out our section on the theme of "Society and Class" for more on that. It's interesting, though, that Ionesco didn't set out to write a play specifically satirizing the English middle class. His inspiration to write the play came when trying to learn the English language. Check out what he has to say about it:
My only ambition was to learn English. Learning English does not necessarily lead to writing plays. In fact it was because I failed to learn English that I became a dramatist. Nor did I write these plays as a kind of revenge for my failure, although The Bald Soprano has been called a satire on the English middle-classes. If I had tried and failed to learn Italian, Russian, or Turkish, it would have been quite as easy to say that the play resulting from these vain efforts was a satire on Italian, Russian, or Turkish society. (source)
It seems to us that even though the play is indisputably set in England, it can be seen as satirizing middle-class society everywhere. It's really even bigger than that. Ionesco uses his English setting as a lens through which we may view society as whole. The playwright is doing far more than satirizing the English middle class; he's satirizing the state of human existence.
Check out what we have to say in our section on the theme "Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd" for more on this whole "state of human existence" thing.