Speech in A Streetcar Named Desire



Williams uses speech to set the characters in their class context and show the differences of social status and education as well as of character. The differences between Stanley and Blanche are stressed by Stanley’s non-grammatical, coarse, often slangy speech as against Blanche’s high-flown rhetoric which often rings false (as it is meant to), and never lets us forget that she was a teacher of English. At times there is a lyrical quality in her words, emphasising their emotional Content.


When Blanche is moved, she frequently uses figurative language, as befits a teacher of English. So for instance we find in Scene 5 ‘Have got to be seductive — put on soft colours, the colours of butterfly wings, and glow’; in Scene 6 she describes love’ as being like ‘a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow’; and in Scene 10 she speaks of the paddy-wagon picking up drunken soldiers ‘like daisies’.


‘While from Blanche such figurative language is to be expected, surprisingly we find Stanley too using metaphors when he is moved. His phrase the ‘coloured lights’ used twice in Scene 8 to describe the ecstasy of passion is startling and evocative, as is his contemptuous description of Blanche’s evening gown and tiara as ‘that worn-out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for fifty cents from some rag-picker’ (Scene 10).


Stella, like Blanche, speaks correct English, but in a matter-of-fact, mostly unemotional tone, except when she speaks of her love for her husband. Eunice and Steve are set firmly a rung or two below Stanley on the class ladder, again by their use of language as much as by their drunken public quarrels. Mitch too is defined by the way he speaks: his efforts at speaking properly are marred by grammatical slip-ups as much as by his genteel circumlocutions (‘I perspire’, never ‘I sweat’). He cannot follow or match Blanche’s flights of fancy, and is acutely aware of this.