No Accommodation? The language of Stanley and Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire David Kinder
The dynamic opposition between Blanche and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the most important forces in the play. Williams creates and maintains an antipathy and tension between them so that, despite the audience’s horror at what Stanley does to Blanche in scene 10, the fact that there is a final clash between the two characters comes as no surprise to us. Stanley’s gruesome boast to Blanche before the rape, ‘we’ve had this date with each other from the beginning’, whilst shocking, is also a neat comment on the way Williams has structured the play. How, though, does Williams achieve this powerful combination of attraction and repulsion? He does it by much more than playing up the sexual chemistry of this pair, vital though that is. Their dynamic relationship is woven into their language, from their first encounter to their last. So much so, in fact, that taking a linguistic approach – and most usefully a sociolinguistic one – to studying the dialogue of Blanche and Stanley could provide us with revealing insights into the subtlety and depth of Williams’ writing. Sociolinguistics deals with the ways in which society helps to shape language. Work in this area has spawned a number of fascinating concepts and terms. There is not space here to look at sociolinguistics in depth, but the following could well help us in studying the relationship between these two characters: 1. Idiolect. Language particular to an individual (formed by where they live, education, family, class etc.) 2. Sociolect. Language of a particular social group.
3. Accommodation theory. The linguist Howard Giles (Language: Contexts and Consequences, 1991) looked at how we adapt language to fit particular social situations – he called the process ‘accommodation’. Eg. In an interview, the interviewer speaks Standard English, you might find yourself accommodating, or converging, with the...
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