Article Title

'Shut Up!' 'Be Quiet!' 'Hush!' Talk and Its Suppression in Three Plays by Tennessee Williams


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Most of the full-length plays that Tennessee Williams wrote prior to Period of Adjustment (1960) dramatize one or more variations of an aggressor-victim pattern of action, in which a sensitive, often delicate, and poetic misfit, given to dreaming, fantasying, and self-dramatization, must confront-and usually succumb to--an adversary whose successful adaptation to the demands of a harsh reality has greatly reduced his or her sensitivity and ability to experience compassion, if such adaptation has not produced utter brutality and viciousness. In three of the four best plays of this group-The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly Last Summer1-the moment-to-moment unfolding of this pattern of action largely consists of a motif that both gives substance to the confrontation and provides a metaphor to define it. The characters in these three plays are given explicit awareness that they are trying to speak, to engage in talk or a talk, even at times to tell a story. Far more important, on every occasion that two characters interact, as the one attempts to speak, the other strives to shut the opponent up. Sometimes the characters use direct, crude, and nasty commands like those in the title of this article, and sometimes they become even more overt and direct as their efforts to shut one another up prompt them to try physical violence. But, as Williams knew, there is. more than one way to silence an opponent; in the three plays in which this motif is so prominent, the subtler methods are both more prevalent and, in the final analysis, more effective.2

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.