Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire.
The play is introduced by a quotation from the poem ‘The Broken Tower’ by Hart Crane musing on the elusive nature of love and the difficulty of finding it:
‘And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.’
Blanche DuBois: a woman of about thirty. Of Southern aristocracy. Stella’s sister. Nervous, tense, hysterical.
Stella Kowalski: a gentle woman of about twenty-five. Stanley’s wife.
Stanley Kowalski: a working class Polish-American of about twenty-eight. An army officer currently working as a driver. Strong, masculine, sensuous. Fond of the female sex, rough humour, drink and food, gambling and games, and his friends.
Eunice Hubbell: neighbour of the Kowalskis. Steve’s wife.
Steve Hubbell: Stanley’s friend. Poker player.
Harold Mitchell (or, Mitch): Stanley’s friend. Lives with his sickly mother.
Pablo Gonzales: Stanley’s friend. Poker player.
New Orleans, Louisiana, a street called Elysian Fields which runs between railway tracks and the river. A poor section of the city but with a raffish charm. The play takes place between spring and early autumn.
Blanche arrives to Stella on the loss of the family plantation.
An early May evening. The peculiarly blue sky creates a lyric atmosphere. A corresponding mood is evoked by the ‘Blue Piano’ played from around the corner by black entertainers. This music expresses the spirit of the life which goes on here. The old part of New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where the blacks and whites mingle freely, as manifested in the opening of the first act.
The exterior of a two-story building. Eunice Hubbell, the occupant of the upstairs flat, is taking an airing in front of the house and chatting with a black woman from the neighbourhood. Stanley Kowalski and his friend Mitch appear in their working clothes. Stanley shouts at his wife Stella and when she comes out, he heaves her a packet of meat. Eunice and the other woman laugh at it. Stanley and Mitch leave for bowling immediately and Stella is to join them later.
Blanche DuBois enters the scene. Her appearance is incongruous to the setting. She is dressed like a lady in a white suit, gloves, and a hat. She wears a necklace and pearl earrings. After a moment of hesitation, Eunice addresses her:
Eunice [finally]: ‘What’s the matter, honey? Are you lost?’
Blanche [with a faintly hysterical humour]: ‘They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at––Elysian Fields!’
Eunice confirms that Blanche is at the right place. Blanche regards the decayed surroundings with disbelief. When Eunice learns that Blanche is Stella’s sister, she lets her into Stella’s messy two-bedroom flat. Blanche is extremely tense. She discovers a bottle of whiskey in the flat and pours herself a glass secretly.
Eunice fetches Stella from the bowling alley:
Stella [calling out joyfully]: ‘Blanche!’ [For a moment they stare at each other. Then Blanche springs up and runs to her with a wild cry.]
Blanche: ‘Stella, oh, Stella, Stella! Stella for Star!’ [She begins to speak with feverish vivacity as if she feared for either of them to stop and think. They catch each other in a spasmodic embrace.]
Blanche starts searching the premises for liquor and pretends to find the whiskey bottle. She is trembling so that Stella must pour the drink for her. She refuses to have it mixed but claims that she is no drinker, that she is only fatigued with the journey. Blanche demands from Stella an explanation how comes that she lives in such poor conditions:
Blanche: ‘You sit down, now, and explain this place to me! What are you doing in a place like this?’
Stella: ‘Now, Blanche––’
Blanche: ‘Oh, I’m not going to be hypocritical, I’m going to be honestly critical about it! Never, never, never in my worst dreams could I picture––Only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe!––could do it justice! Out there I suppose is the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir!’
Stella is uncomfortable about Blanche’s inquiries but she tries to persuade her that she is not that bad off as Blanche thinks.
Blanche explains that she was so exhausted in her job that she suffered a nervous breakdown and the superintendent of the high school where she teaches suggested her to take a leave. Blanche intends to stay with Stella because she cannot bear loneliness. She craves for compliments on her appearance. She admits that daylight shows her weary face but she boasts with her figure, claiming she has been keeping her weight exactly the same for the last ten years.
Stella has not told Stanley about Blanche’s visit as yet and Blanche worries about how Stanley will receive her. Stella is obviously madly in love with her husband. She tries to prepare Blanche for him, warning her that he is not at all as genteel as the men with whom they were going out earlier at home. Blanche is concerned for propriety and appearance, something her sister has already resigned at:
Blanche [dubiously]: ‘But there’s no door between the two rooms, and Stanley––will it be decent?’
Stella: ‘Stanley is Polish, you know.’
Blanche: ‘Oh, yes. They’re something like Irish, aren’t they?’
Blanche: ‘Only not so––highbrow?’
Blanche tells Stella that they lost the family plantation, Bella Reve, in Laurel, Mississippi. Stella left the place ten years ago when their father died. She came back home only for funerals which followed in a quick succession one after another. Their mother died, their cousin, and Margaret. There were no inheritances, not even insurances, so that Blanche had to pay for the funerals out of her meagre income as a teacher. She suffered a lot when she had to take care for her dying family members. She reproaches Stella for having abandoned her and the family:
Blanche: ‘I, I, I took the blows in my face and my body! … Yes, accuse me! Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go! I let the place go? Where were you? In bed with your––Polack!’
Stella bursts into tears and flees to the bathroom. Meanwhile Stanley is taking leave from Mitch and Steve Hubbell at the door. Stanley enters the flat, makes himself comfortable by removing his shirt and starts examining Blanche. His manner is direct and his questions give the impression of a cross-examination rather than that of a polite social conversation. Stanley explains that Stella talked a lot about Blanche. Blanche was married once, as a young girl, and when Stanley inquires what happened, he learns only that the boy died. Blanche starts to feel sick and her head falls on her arms.
Stanley confronts Blanche and learns that the plantation was lost on mortgage.
The following evening. Blanche is taking a long hot bath to quieten her nerves. Stella is taking her out for a supper and for a show because it is Stanley’s poker evening and Stella is afraid how Blanche would take it. Stella is much concerned for her sister and tries to instruct Stanley how to behave to her so as not to discomfort her even more. Stanley does not show any concern. When he learns about the loss of the plantation, he is immediately interested in seeing the bill of sale. Stella does not understand his meaning but Stanley explains her the Napoleonic code, meaning that his wife’s property belongs to him as well. Stanley throws Blanche’s suitcase open and points at her numerous dresses, furs, and jewels. He believes that Blanche cheated Stella out of her share and spent the money from the sale of the plantation on her own. Stella thinks this is absurd and points out that the jewels are fake and the dresses are cheap and old ones. There is a confrontation between them in which Stella defends her sister.
Blanche emerges from the bathroom in an airy mood. She sends Stella away to fetch her a soda. She asks Stanley to help her with the buttons at the back of her dress and starts flirting with him:
Blanche: ‘You’re simple, straightforward and honest, a little bit on the primitive side I should think. To interest you a woman would have to––’ [She pauses with an indefinite gesture.]
Stanley [slowly]: ‘Lay... her cards on the table.’
Blanche invites Stanley to be frank with her. Stanley demands to know what happened with the money from the sale and Blanche hands him over all her papers. Stanley snatches from her even her love-letters, poems written by Blanche’s young late husband. Blanche is furious at Stanley’s even touching the letters, she holds it for desecration. When she calms down, she is exhausted and her elevated mood is gone. The rest of the papers are mostly documents from the company that made loans on the plantation. Stanley now starts to understand that the place was lost on a mortgage:
Blanche [picking up a large envelope containing more papers]: ‘There are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years, affecting Belle Reve as, piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications––to put it plainly! [She removes her glasses with an exhausted laugh.] The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till finally all that was left––and Stella can verify that!––was the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard, to which now all but Stella and I have retreated.’
Stanley unwillingly lets escape a word about Stella’s pregnancy which Stella meant to conceal until Blanche should get better. Blanche however contemplates the news with a dreamy look and congratulates Stella. As to Stanley, she observes that ‘maybe he’s what we need to mix with our blood now that we’ve lost Belle Reve’. Blanche describes how she managed the confrontation with Stanley, explains that she ‘treated it all as a joke’ and even freely admits that she was flirting with Stella’s husband. The sisters leave:
Blanche: ‘Which way do we go now, Stella––this way?’
Stella: ‘No, this way.’ [She leads Blanche away.]
Blanche [laughing]: ‘The blind are leading the blind!’
Blanche meets Mitch. Stanley threatens Stella. The couple reconciles.
Subtitled ‘The Poker Night’. Stanley’s friends, Mitch, Steve, and Pablo, gather for poker in the kitchen. They are all ‘men at the peak of their physical manhood, … coarse and direct and powerful’. They start to play cards, drink, and exchange rough jokes. Only Mitch is worried about his sickly mother. She told him to go out and enjoy himself but he cannot help himself from thinking of her. Unlike the rest of the men, Mitch is unmarried and he does not like the idea of being left alone when his mother dies. The other men laugh at his worries.
Blanche and Stella return at nearly two thirty in the morning but the men are still playing. Stella must ensure Blanche that she looks fresh and nice before she introduces her to the company. Blanche tries to be friendly but the men do not respond to her attempts very politely:
Stella: ‘Blanche, this is Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Hubbell.’
Blanche: ‘Please don’t get up.’
Stanley: ‘Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t be worried.’
Blanche: ‘Poker is so fascinating. Could I kibitz?’
Stanley: ‘You could not. Why don’t you women go up and sit with Eunice?’
Blanche focuses her interest on Mitch who strikes her as superior to the other men. She inquires after him and Stella tells her that Mitch works at the precision bench in the spare parts department at the same plant for which Stanley works as a driver. Stella believes that out of the men, Stanley is the only ‘likely to get anywhere’ because of his raw energy, ‘a drive that he has’. Blanche however does not share her conviction.
The women keep on talking and start undressing when Stanley shouts at them angrily to be quiet. He is losing the game. Stella sees that Stanley is drunk but she talks back. When Blanche remains alone in the room, she switches on the radio and relaxes in a chair. Stanley storms into the room to switch off the radio and stops to look at Blanche sitting half-dressed in the chair. Blanche returns his stare without flinching.
Blanche engages into conversation with Mitch who is on his way to the bathroom. She begs a cigarette from him and admires his silver case with a inscription on it. It is a quote from a sonnet by Elizabeth Browning, saying: ‘And if God choose, / I shall but love thee better––after––death’! Mitch explains that it is a gift from a girl who already knew that she was dying when she gave it to him. This evokes Blanche’s sympathy:
Blanche: ‘She must have been fond of you. Sick people have such deep, sincere attachments.’
Mitch: ‘That’s right, they certainly do.’
Blanche: ‘Sorrow makes for sincerity, I think.’
Mitch: ‘It sure brings it out in people.’
Blanche explains to Mitch her name which is French and means white woods, ‘like an orchard in spring’. The first American ancestors of her family were French Huguenots. Blanche pretends that she younger than Stella rather than five years older. She asks Mitch to fix a coloured paper lantern from a Chinese shop over the light bulb, explaining: ‘I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action’. Blanche reverses the situation and claims that she came to help her sister who has been feeling down lately. She describes herself as ‘an old maid schoolteacher’ and is pleased by Mitch’s compliment denying the word old. She is a teacher of English:
Blanche: ‘I attempt to instill a bunch of bobby-soxers and drug-store Romeos with reverence for Hawthorne and Whitman and Poe!’
Mitch: ‘I guess that some of them are more interested in other things.’
Blanche: ‘How very right you are! Their literary heritage is not what of them treasure above all else! But they’re sweet things! And in the spring, it’s touching to notice them making their first discovery of love! As if nobody had ever known it before!’
Blanche turns on the radio again and begins to dance waltz to the music. Mitch moves clumsily to the rhythm. Stanley walks unsteadily into the room, shouts an oath, and throws the radio out of the window. Stella tries to make the men leave but Stanley attempts to assault her. The men manage to pacify Stanley, dragging him under the shower. Blanche quickly leads Stella upstairs to find a refuge in Eunice’s flat. Mitch observes: ‘Poker should not be played in a house with women’. The men collect their winnings and leave the house. Stanley calms down and starts demanding his wife back. Eunice defends her:
Eunice: ‘You can’t beat on a woman an’ then call ’er back! She won’t come! And her goin’ t’ have a baby! … You stinker! You whelp of a Polack, you! I hope they do haul you in and turn the fire hose on you, same as the last time!’
Stanley [humbly]: ‘Eunice, I want my girl to come down with me!’
Eunice: ‘Hah!’ [She slams her door.]
Stanley [with heaven-splitting violence]: ‘STELL-LAHHHHH!’
Stella however soon slips down the stairs and the couple lovingly reconciles. Mitch appears from around the corner and comes across Blanche who was shocked by the violent scene. Mitch tries to comfort her. It seems that the scene was nothing exceptional with the Kowalskis.
Blanche disapproves of Stanley. Stella remains loyal to him.
The following morning. Stella is lying in the bed, fresh and rosy. The kitchen is still messed up from the preceding night. Stella’s appearance contrasts to that of Blanche who appears at the door of the bedroom. Blanche has had a sleepless night out of fear for Stella. Blanche was shocked by Stanley’s drunkard behaviour and is shocked even more at Stella acting now as if nothing had happened. Stella explains that Stanley had already calmed down when she came back to the flat and that he was sincerely ashamed for himself:
Blanche: ‘And that––that makes it all right?’
Stella: ‘No, it isn’t all right for anybody to make such a terrible row, but––people do sometimes. Stanley’s always smashed things. Why, on our wedding night––soon as we came in here––he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light bulbs with it.’
Blanche: ‘He did––what?’
Stella: ‘He smashed all the light bulbs with the heel of my slipper!’ [She laughs.]
Blanche: ‘And you––you let him? Didn’t run, didn’t scream?’
Stella: ‘I was––sort of––thrilled by it. [She waits for a moment.] Eunice and you had breakfast?’
Blanche urges Stella to get out of her present circumstances and start a new life but is shocked to learn that Stella does not have the slightest intention to do so. Stanley promised her to quit his poker nights and though Stella does not think that the promise will last, she believes that people must tolerate one another’s habits. Blanche starts weaving plots of how to get at some money and take Stella away from her husband. Blanche believes that Shep Huntleigh could help her. He is Blanche’s former acquaintance, an oil magnate, with whom she was going out at college and with whom she supposedly spent the last Christmas holiday when she met him accidentally in the street. Blanche picks up the phone and is about to dial operator but then she decides to write a message asking for help instead. Blanche is broke so Stella gives her half the money she has on herself to raise her morale. Blanche keeps on thinking aloud despite Stella’s protests and her wish to keep things as they are:
Blanche: ‘Stella, I can’t live with him! You can, he’s your husband. But how could I stay here with him, after last night, with just those curtains between us?’
Stella: ‘Blanche, you saw him at his worst last night.’
Stella: ‘On the contrary, I saw him at his best! What such a man has to offer is animal force and he gave a wonderful exhibition of that! But the only way to live with such a man is to––go to bed with him! And that’s your job––not mine!’
Blanche takes for granted that Stella seeks to escape from her life, which is however not the case. Stella explains that she loves Stanley and that she does not have any pretensions to social superiority, unlike Blanche who tries to appeal to Stella by recalling the times when they lived at Belle Reve. Stella admits that her relationship to Stanley is based very much on physical attraction but she seems to believe this to be a sufficient foundation. Blanche does not deny that men like Stanley may be good for one date or two, but not for life and family. She trembles for Stella:
Blanche: ‘What you are talking about is brutal desire––just––Desire!––the name of that rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another...’
Stella: ‘Haven’t you ever ridden on that street-car?’
Blanche: ‘It brought me here.––Where I’m not wanted and where I’m ashamed to be.’
The women do not notice that Stanley has returned and Blanche goes on talking. She begs leave to be frank with Stella and then she tells her that Stanley is a common man, plain and ordinary, but even worse, that there is something bestial about him. She compares him to an animal, an ape, a stone age hunter who brings raw meat home where Stella is waiting for him. She begs Stella not to resign at the progress of civilization and not to hang back with the brutes. When she finishes, Stanley makes a noisy approach. Stella embraces him ostentatiously in full view of Blanche. Stanley grins contentedly.
Stanley learns about Blanche’s past. Blanche dates with Mitch.
Blanche is composing a letter to Shep in which she pretends that she is spending the summer by visiting relatives and that she may visit him in Dallas, too. Upstairs Eunice is having an argument with her presumably unfaithful husband. Eunice threatens with calling police but she leaves just to have a drink. Steve appears with a bruise on his forehead and affects boldness though in fact he seems to be afraid of his wife. A while later they are seen in a tight embrace returning home reconciled.
Stanley is moving around the flat and banging with things. Blanche asks him about his sign of zodiac and learns that he was born just five minutes after Christmas which makes him Capricorn, the Goat. Blanche herself was born under Virgo. Stanley announces to Blanche that someone named Shaw claims he met her in Laurel but that he must have mixed her up with someone else because Blanche certainly never was to hotel Flamingo, a cheap and unrespectable place. Blanche denies it but she is obviously shocked by the information.
Blanche inquires from Stella if she heard any gossip about her. Stella did not hear anything and is surprised to hear Blanche admitting that her behaviour was not very good for the last two years when she knew she was losing the house and did not know how to cope with her life:
Blanche: ‘I never was hard or self-sufficient enough. When people are soft––soft people have got to shimmer and glow––they’ve got to put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings, and put a–– paper lantern over the light.... It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I––I’m fading now! I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick.’
Blanche falls into an over-sensitive mood. Suddenly she takes Stella’s hand, presses it to her lips, and promises that she will not bother Stella for much longer. She asks Stella for some whiskey to mix with her coke and when it spills accidentally on her skirt, she gives such a piercing cry that she frightens Stella. She tries to clean her skirt with her trembling hands. She explains that she is nervous about Mitch who is coming this evening. She hopes to start a relationship with him because she acutely feels that she is growing old:
Stella: ‘Blanche, do you want him?’ [= Mitch]
Blanche: ‘I want to rest! I want to breath quietly again! Yes––I want Mitch...very badly! Just think! If it happens! I can leave here and not be anyone’s problem...’
Stella is called off by Stanley to join Eunice and Steve outside. Blanche remains alone. A young man collecting for a newspaper rings the bell. Blanche invites him in, asks him to light her a cigarette, and starts a flirtatious conversation. The man is embarrassed and uncomfortable:
Blanche: ‘Come here. I want to kiss you, just once, softly and sweetly on your mouth! [Without waiting for him to accept, she crosses quickly to him and presses her lips to his.] Now run along, now, quickly! It would be nice to keep you, but I’ve got to be good––and keep my hands off children.’
The young man is dazed and leaves. Then Mitch appears with a bunch of roses which Blanche gracefully accepts, thanking him in French and acting like a well-bred coquettish lady.
Blanche and Mitch discuss physical and sentimental love.
The same evening, about two o’clock of the night. Blanche and Mitch have been to an entertainment park and though Blanche was trying hard to enjoy herself, the evening was a failure. Mitch is uncertain as to what extent he may intimate with Blanche. Blanche likes it to be kissed goodnight but as to the other intimacies, she does not want to give in too soon so that Mitch should not lose his interest:
Blanche: ‘Honey, it wasn’t the kiss I objected to. I liked the kiss very much. It was the other little––familiarity––that I––felt obliged to––discourage.... I didn’t resent it! Not a bit in the world! In fact, I was somewhat flattered that you––desired me! But, honey, you know as well as I do that a single girl, a girl alone in the world, has got to keep a firm hold on her emotions or she’ll be lost!’
Mitch [solemnly]: ‘Lost?’
Blanche: ‘I guess you are used to girls that like to be lost. The kind that get lost immediately, on the first date!’
Mitch: ‘I like you to be exactly the way that you are, because in all my––experience––I have never known anyone like you.’
Stanley and Stella are not back yet so Blanche invites Mitch to go in. She starts searching for liquor, claiming that she wants Mitch to have a drink but pouring herself one, too. She does not switch on the lights but lights a candle. She suggests pretending that they are sitting in a bohemian café in Paris and she starts speaking French. Mitch does not understand the language. Blanche invites Mitch to take off his coat and collar but Mitch explains that he is ashamed of the way he perspires. Mitch takes pride in his physique, he has been doing some body building since last Christmas when he got a gift of membership to an athletic club. Mitch talks about his weight and then asks Blanche about hers. He lifts her easily so that he could guess and concludes that she is as light as a feather. Blanche is flattered but she does not allow for any more intimacies:
Mitch: ‘Just give me a slap whenever I step out of bounds.’
Blanche: ‘That won’t be necessary. You’re a natural gentleman, one of the very few that are left in the world. I don’t want you to think that I am severe and old maid schoolteacherish or anything like that. It’s just––well––
Blanche: ‘I guess it is just that I have––old-fashioned ideals!’
Mitch suggests going out together with Stella and Stanley the next time. Blanche explains that Stanley does not like her but that she must put up with him as much as he must put up with her because Blanche cannot afford staying anywhere else than with her sister:
Blanche: ‘Surely he [= Stanley] must have told you how much he hates me!’
Mitch: ‘I don’t think he hates you.’
Blanche: ‘He hates me. Or why would he insult me? The first time I laid my eyes on him I thought to myself, that man is my executioner! That man will destroy me, unless––’
Mitch suddenly asks Blanche about her age. Blanche gets nervous but the question was an innocent one. Mitch told about Blanche to his dying mother who wants to see him settled before she dies and when she asked him how old Blanche was, he did not know the answer. The subject of conversation changes and Blanche tells Mitch her story. When she was sixteen, she fell in love with a young boy, Allan, and married him. She claims that he came to her for help but that despite all her love, she was unable to help him. Only after the marriage she found out that her husband was a homosexual when she caught him in the act with an older man who had been his friend for years. All the three of them then pretended that nothing had happened and drove to a casino. They were drinking and dancing. When she was dancing the Varsouviana with her husband, he unexpectedly broke from her and ran away to shoot himself a moment later:
Blanche: ‘It was because––on the dance-floor––unable to stop myself––I’d suddenly said––‘I saw! I know! You disgust me...’ And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this––kitchen––candle...’ [Mitch gets up awkwardly and moves toward her a little. The polka music increases. Mitch stands beside her.]
Mitch [drawing her slowly into his arms]: ‘You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be––you and me, Blanche?’ …
Blanche: ‘Sometimes––there’s God––so quickly!’
Stanley warns Mitch against Blanche.
Late afternoon in mid-September. Stella is decorating a birthday table for Blanche who is just having one of her long baths. Stanley brings news about Blanche’s past. While he is telling Stella, Blanche is singing in the bathroom a saccharine popular ballad about a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea. Stella tells Stanley about Blanche’s disappointment with the handsome young poet, her late husband, and defends her:
Stella: ‘Stanley, stop picking on Blanche.’
Stanley: ‘That girl calls me common!’
Stella: ‘Lately you been doing all you can think of to rub her the wrong way, Stanley, and Blanche is sensitive and you’ve got to realize that Blanche and I grew up under very different circumstances than you did.’
Stanley: ‘So I been told. And told and told and told! You know she’s been feeding us a pack of lies here?
Despite Stella’s protests, Stanley tells her what he heard from the supply-man from the plant. After she lost Belle Reve, Blanche moved to the second-rate hotel Flamingo. She was apparently receiving too many male visits and the hotel management expelled her because of this. She became so ill-famed in Laurel that the mayor of the town practically told her to get out. She was also dismissed from her job because she had an affair with a seventeen-year-old boy.
Stanley announces that he warned Mitch against Blanche and so Mitch is not going to appear this evening, neither is he going to marry Blanch as she was hoping. To make sure that Blanche will leave them, Stanley has bought her a bus ticket. Stella is worried what will become of Blanche. Blanche appears at the door and immediately recognizes that something has happened.
Stella defends Blanche against Stanley.
Three quarters of an hour later. Stella, Stanley, and Blanche are finishing the sad birthday supper. Mitch has not arrived and his chair at the table remains vacant. Stella is sad, Stanley sullen, and Blanche has a tight and artificial smile on her face. Blanche asks Stanley to tell them a funny story to relieve the situation. It is the first time that Blanche was let down by a man. Stanley refuses to tell anything, so Blanche tells a weak joke about a parrot. Stanley is irritated and falls into rage when Stella gives him an occasion:
Stella: ‘Your face and your fingers are disgustingly greasy. Go and wash up and then help me clear the table.’ [He hurls a plate to the floor.]
Stanley: ‘That’s how I’ll clear the table! [He seizes her arm.] Don’t ever talk that way to me! ‘Pig–– Polack––disgusting––vulgar––greasy!’––them kind of words have been on your tongue and your sister’s too much around here! What do you two think you are? A pair of queens? Remember what Huey Long said––‘Every Man is a King!’ And I am the king around here, so don’t forget it! [He hurls a cup and saucer to the floor!] My place is cleared! You want me to clear your places?’ [Stella begins to cry weakly. Stanley stalks out on the porch and lights a cigarette.]
Blanche wants to know what Stanley told Stella when she was bathing but Stella refuses to tell her. Blanche tries to call Mitch on the phone but he is not there so she leaves a message. Stanley awkwardly attempts to comfort Stella and promises that everything will be well again when Blanche leaves them. Stanley complaints of the heat in the room produced by Blanche’s hot bath:
Blanche: ‘I’ve said I was sorry three times. … I take hot baths for my nerves. Hydro-therapy, they call it. You healthy Polack, without a nerve in your body, of course you don’t know what anxiety feels like!’
Stanley: ‘I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack.’
Stella lightens the candles on the white cake for Blanche. There are twenty-five candles. Blanche claims that as she is twenty-seven, she would rather not observe her birthday. Stanley gives Blanche an envelope with a birthday gift. It is the bus ticket back to Laurel. Stanley then prepares himself to go bowling as if nothing had happened but Stella would not let him go. She catches hold of his bowling shirt and reproaches him bitterly:
Stella: ‘You needn’t have been so cruel to someone alone as she is.’
Stanley: ‘Delicate piece she is.’
Stella: ‘She is. She was. You didn’t know Blanche as a girl. Nobody, nobody, was tender and trusting as she was. But people like you abused her, and forced her to change.’ … ‘I want to know why. Tell me why.’
Stanley: ‘When we first met, me and you, you thought I was common. How right you was, baby. I was common as dirt. You showed me the snapshot of the place with the columns. I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it, having them colored lights going! And wasn’t we happy together, wasn’t it all okay till she showed here?’
While Stanley continues his monologue, Stella’s appearance suddenly changes. She asks to be brought to hospital and Stanley rushes to support her.
Blanche confesses her past to Mitch. Mitch breaks up with her.
Later the same evening. Blanche is sitting in her scarlet satin robe in a chair and drinking. She has the tune of Varsouviana caught in her mind and she drinks to escape it. Mitch comes around the corner, in his work clothes and unshaven. He has apparently had a few drinks. Blanche hides her bottle before she lets him in. At first she feels insulted by his failure to come but she immediately forgives him. Blanche offers him something to drink, claiming that she does not know what is available on the premises, but Mitch refuses Stanley’s liquor. He remarks that according to Stanley, Blanche has been drinking his liquor all summer. Blanche still hears the Varsouviana, then a distant shot is heard, and the music stops. Mitch did not hear the music and he wonders what is wrong with Blanche’s mind.
Mitch asks Blanche to see her in full light. He never saw Blanche in daylight or in a well-lit place because she always refused to go out in the afternoon. Blanche is frightened but Mitch insists and finally tears the paper lantern off the bulb:
Blanche: ‘I don’t want realism. I want magic! [Mitch laughs.] Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!––Don’t turn the light on!’
[Mitch crosses to the switch. He turns the light on and stares at her. She cries out and covers her face. He turns the light off again.]
Mitch [slowly and bitterly]: ‘I don’t mind you being older than what I thought. But all the rest of it––Christ That pitch about your ideals being so old-fashioned and all the malarkey that you’ve dished out all summer. Oh, I knew you weren’t sixteen any more. But I was a fool enough to believe you was straight.’
Blanche feebly denies what Mitch learned from Stanley but Mitch assures her that he at first did not believe Stanley but then he checked the information with people from Blanche’s past and all of them were saying the same thing. Blanche gives her own version of her story. She claims that the hotel she stayed in was not called Flamingo but Tarantula Arms but otherwise she confirms her infamy and explains:
Mitch [stupidly]: ‘Tarantula?’
Blanche: ‘Yes, a big spider! That’s where I brought my victims. [She pours herself another drink.] Yes, I had many intimacies with strangers. After the death of Allan–– intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with.... I think it was panic, just panic, that drove me from one to another, hunting for some protection––here and there, in the most––unlikely places––even, at last, in a seventeen-year-old boy but––somebody wrote the superintendent about it––‘This woman is morally unfit for her position! … So I came here. There was nowhere else I could go. I was played out. You know what played out is? My youth was suddenly gone up the water-sprout, and––I met you. You said you needed somebody. Well, I needed somebody, too. I thanked God for you, because you seemed to be gentle––a cleft in the rock of the world that I could hide in! But I guess I was asking, hoping–– too much!’
Blanche tries to convince Mitch that she never lied to him about her love but Mitch does not believe her anymore. A blind Mexican woman comes around, offering the flowers that lower class Mexicans display at funerals and other festive occasions. Blanche sends her away but the woman’s cries are still heard in the background, together with the tune of polka. Blanche recalls the suffering she experienced when she had to care for the dying members of her family. They were then too poor to hire a black girl to do it:
Blanche: ‘Death––I used to sit here and she used to sit over there and death was as close as you are.... We didn’t even admit we had ever heard of it!’
Mexican Woman: ‘Flores para los muertos, flores––flores...’
Blanche: ‘The opposite is desire. So do you wonder? How could you possibly wonder?’
Blanche then continues to describe that there was a training camp for young soldier near Belle Reve. The soldiers would get drunk on Saturday nights and call her. Sometimes she would slip outside to answer their calls. Blanche finishes her narrative and Mitch stumbles over to her to embrace her. He wants from her what he has been missing all summer. Blanche is willing to give in only if Mitch marries her but Mitch does not hold her fit to bring to his house and his mother. Blanche warns Mitch and when he does not pay any attention to her protests, she starts screaming fire. Mitch goes away.
Blanche seeks help from Shep. Stanley violates her.
Several hours later the same night. Blanche has been drinking steadily since Mitch left. She is packing her things. Her mood is that of hysterical exhilaration. She has changed into a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown. She is placing a rhinestone tiara on her head in front of a mirror and murmuring as if to a group of spectral admirers. She closely examines herself in a hand mirror and slams it down with such violence that the glass cracks.
Stanley returns from the hospital. He has had several drinks on the way and is carrying some more with himself. Stella will not deliver the baby before the morning so Stanley was sent home. Blanche explains her appearance so that she received a telegram from an old admirer, Shep Huntleigh, who is inviting her for a cruise of the Caribbean on a yacht. Stanley is in an amiable mood, he opens himself a bottle of beer and prepares the silk pyjamas that he wore on his wedding night and that he always puts on for special occasions. Blanche starts to get entangled into her inventions:
Blanche: ‘This man [= Huntleigh] is a gentleman and he respects me. [Improvising feverishly.] What he wants is my companionship. Having great wealth sometimes makes people lonely! A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding, can enrich a man’s life––immeasurably! I have those things to offer, and this doesn’t take them away. Physical beauty is passing. A transitory possession. But beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit and tenderness of the heart––and I have all of those things––aren’t taken away, but grow! Increase with the years! How strange that I should be called a destitute woman! When I have all of these treasures locked in my heart.’
Blanche continues to tell Stanley that her gifts are not appreciated by him and by Mitch. Mitch supposedly came to apologize with a box of roses and begged for forgiveness but Blanche would never forgive deliberate cruelty so she sent him away. Stanley sees that Blanche is inventing the stories and he tells her so, asserting that he was the one who saw her through immediately:
Stanley: ‘And look at yourself! Take a look at yourself in that worn-out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for fifty cents from some rag-picker! And with the crazy crown on! What queen do you think you are?’
While talking, Stanley walks into the bedroom where Blanche is packing. She looks frightened and tells him not to come in, on which Stanley disappears into the bathroom. Blanche runs to the phone and asks for a long-distance call to Shep Huntleigh. She does not know the address and the operator does not connect her. Lurid reflections and shadows start moving on the wall behind Blanche. The night is filled with inhuman cries. The wall of the room becomes transparent and shows a view of the street where a prostitute has rolled a drunkard who pursues her. There is a struggle, broken up by the whistle of a policeman. A black woman appears with the bag which the prostitute has dropped and searches its contents excitedly.
Blanche picks up the phone receiver again and dictates a telegram to an unknown addressee in which she desperately calls for help. Suddenly the bathroom door is thrown open and Stanley emerges in his silk pyjamas. He replaces the receiver that Blanche has left off the hook. Blanche asks him to step aside so that she could pass. Stanley moves back a pace in the doorway and grins at her:
Stanley: ‘You think I’ll interfere with you? Ha-ha!’ [The ‘blue piano’ goes softly. She turns confusedly and makes a faint gesture. The inhuman jungle voices rise up. He takes a step toward her, biting his tongue which protrudes between his lips.]
Stanley [softly]: ‘Come to think of it––maybe you wouldn’t be bad to––interfere with...’
Blanche moves backwards into the bedroom and warns Stanley not to come closer to her. Stanley does not obey. She smashes a bottle on the table and faces him with the broken top so that she could defend herself:
Stanley: ‘Oh! So you want some rough-house! All right, let’s have some rough-house!’ [He springs toward her, overturning the table. She cries out and strikes at him with the bottle top but he catches her wrist.]
Stanley: ‘Tiger––tiger! Drop the bottle top! Drop it! We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!’ [She moans. The bottle top falls. She sinks to her knees. He picks up her inert figure and carries her to the bed. The hot trumpet and drums from the Four Deuces sound loudly.]
Blanche is removed to a mental asylum.
Several weeks later. Stella is packing Blanche’s things while Blanche is bathing. The poker players are assembled in the kitchen as in Scene Three. Stanley is prodigiously elated, he seems to be winning the game: ‘You know what luck is? Luck is believing you’re lucky’. Stella told Blanche that they made arrangements for her to rest in the country and Blanche mixed it up with Shep Huntleigh whom she believes she is going to meet. Stella has been crying, she is in doubts about her decision but Eunice comforts her:
Stella: ‘I don’t know if I did the right thing.’
Eunice: ‘What else could you do?’
Stella: ‘I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.’
Eunice: ‘Don’t ever believe it. Life has got to go on. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep on going.’
Blanche emerges from the bathroom in her red satin robe which contributes to her tragic radiance. The Varsouviana is heard. On hearing Blanche’s voice, Mitch becomes sadly discomforted but he does not leave the cards. Blanche is looking forward to quitting the place which she regards as a trap. She suspects that something is wrong from the behaviour of Stella and Eunice who are trying to hush her and keep her calm. She fingers the bunch of grapes that Eunice brought for Stella and wonders whether they have been washed. She succumbs to her morbid imagination and her monologue is accompanied by the chiming of the cathedral bells, ‘the only clean thing in the Quarter’:
Blanche: ‘I can smell the sea air. The rest of my time I’m going to spend on the sea. And when I die, I’m going to die on the sea. You know what I shall die of? [She plucks a grape.] I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die––with my hand in the hand of some nice- looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond mustache and a big silver watch. ‘Poor lady,’ they’ll say, ‘the quinine did her no good. That unwashed grape has transported her soul to heaven.’ [The cathedral chimes are heard.] And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard––at noon––in the blaze of summer––and into an ocean as blue as [Chimes again.] my first lover’s eyes!’
A doctor and a matron appear round the corner. The gravity of their profession is manifested in the unmistakable aura of the state institution with its cynical detachment. Blanche believes that it is Shep Huntleigh calling for her but she overhears Eunice saying that there are two people waiting and she grows uncertain. She must pass through the kitchen where the poker players are seated. The men stand awkwardly at the table, only Mitch remains seated, staring blankly at the table. When Blanche realizes that it is not Shep Huntleigh, she returns into the flat. The Varsouviana is filtered into a weird distortion, accompanied by the cries and noises of the jungle. Lurid reflections appear on the walls.
The matron starts after Blanche to bring her out and Stanley motions to assist her. Blanche insists that she forgot something so Stanley tears the paper lantern off the bulb, the only thing that Blanche left behind, and offers it to her. Blanche cries out as if the lantern were herself. Stella rushes into Eunice’s embrace on the porch outside:
Stella: ‘Oh, my God, Eunice help me! Don’t let them do that to her, don’t let them hurt her! Oh, God, oh, please God, don’t hurt her! What are they doing to her? What are they doing?’ [She tries to break from Eunice’s arms.]
Eunice: ‘No, honey, no, no, honey. Stay here. Don’t go back in there. Stay with me and don’t look.’
Stella: ‘What have I done to my sister? Oh, God, what have I done to my sister?’
Eunice: ‘You done the right thing, the only thing you could do. She couldn’t stay here; there wasn’t no other place for her to go.’
Mitch stands up and tries to follow Blanche to the bedroom but Stanley blocks his way and then pushes him aside. Mitch collapses at the table, sobbing. The matron catches Blanche’s arm, observing that her fingernails will have to be trimmed, and asks the doctor if she should use the jacket. The doctor takes off his hat and becomes personalized. He approaches Blanche gently and calms her down. Blanche holds tight to his arm while the doctor is leading her away: ‘Whoever you are––I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’ Stella cries out Blanche’s name but Blanche does not turn back and disappears with the doctor and the nurse around the corner. The men slowly return to their places. Eunice brings down Stella’s baby and places it in her arms, wrapped in a pale blue blanket. Stanley goes out to Stella:
Stanley [a bit uncertainly]: ‘Stella?’ [She sobs with inhuman abandon. There is something luxurious in her complete surrender to crying now that her sister is gone.]
Stanley [voluptuously, soothingly]: ‘Now, honey. Now, love. Now, now, love. [He kneels beside her and his fingers find the opening of her blouse.] Now, now, love. Now, love....’ [The luxurious sobbing, the sensual murmur fade away under the swelling music of the ‘blue piano’ and the muted trumpet.]
Steve: ‘This game is seven-card stud.’
Underlying the play is the broader theme of the decline of Southern aristocracy which owed its exceptional status to the ownership of extended plantations and exploitation of slave labour. The character of Stella broke the bonds with her genteel background deliberately by marrying a working class descendant of Polish immigrants and conceiving a child with her husband. In contrast to Stella, her sister Blanche kept on struggling to keep on her pretensions of gentility to the very end. Blanche was the last to remain at Belle Reve and she fought for what was already lost until she was forced to leave the place when it was lost on mortgage.
One of the major themes of the play is a gradual disintegration of personality as manifested in Blanche. Blanche has suffered several heavy blows in her life, beginning with the discovery of her young husband’s homosexuality and his consequential suicide and following with the agonizing deaths of her family members, which left her eventually alone, but for her rather estranged though still loving sister Stella. In her own words, Blanche has been needing someone. In very young men, she was searching for the image of her lost love, her dead husband. She blamed herself for Allan’s suicide, as evidenced by the Varsouviana tune which kept on haunting her mind.
As suggested by the title of the play, its dominant theme is that of destructive desire. Uncontrolled desire was apparently the cause of the loss of Belle Reve, which was gradually consumed by the ‘epic fornications’ of the male family members. ‘A streetcar named Desire’ brought Blanche to the poor quarters both literary and figuratively, it was because of her sexual escapades that she lost her teacher job and was left without means. Also Stella fell a prey to desire, mutual physical attraction seems to be the only thing that she shares with her husband, otherwise her marriage sent her downwards the social scale, from aristocracy as low as to the working class.
Most of the motifs of the play are accumulated about Blanche and most of them express in one way or another the sense of an irretrievable loss. Blanche successively lost her husband, her family, her home, and her social status, and she apparently fails to come to terms with all these strokes. She has already lost her innocence and she is in the process of losing her youth and beauty, therefore she desperately clings to what is still remaining and acts so as to make others think her still innocent, young, and beautiful. She avoids intimacies with Mitch which would make her look easy to be had, she never shows herself in full light which would disclose her age and her fading beauty.
AuthorWilliams, Tennessee. (1911 - 1983).
Full TitleA Streetcar Named Desire.
First PerformedNY: Barrymore Theater, 1947.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. 1947. New York: Signet, 1972.