A synopsis of the play by Tennessee Williams

This article was written by J. Crabb and originally published on this website on March 28, 2002.

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THE play begins in New Orleans, on a dark evening in early in May. Stanley Kowalksi and his friend Mitch stop by the Kowalski apartment to drop off a slab of meat and let Stanley's wife, Stella, know that they are going to go bowling. Stella decides to join them, and as soon as the apartment is vacant, Blanche DuBois, Stella's sister, arrives carrying a valise and looking quite lost. Eunice, one of the Kowalski's neighbors, lets Blance into the apartment to wait. Blanche is very nervous and, finding a whiskey bottle in a closet, takes a few sips to calm her nerves. Stella soon returns and is delighted to find her sister there waiting. She listens patiently as Blanche rants about the deplorable conditions in which Stella is living. Blanche claims that she has taken a leave of absence from the school at which she teaches in order to come visit her baby sister. She also admits that they have lost Belle Reve, the family estate. She criticizes Stella for having left her alone to try to save the plantation. In a little while, Stanley returns from bowling. Blanche is frightened by Stanley's rough appearance and common talk, however she finds herself engaging in a flirtatious conversation with her sister's husband nonetheless.

The following evening, Blanche bathes while Stella explains to Stanley that Belle Reve has been lost. He is distrustful of Blance and wants to see the paperwork, but Stella begs Stanley not to upset Blanche because of the ordeal that she has been through. Stanley then goes through Blanche's wardrobe trunk and jerks out an armful of dresses. He suggests that she has purchased all of these feathers and furs by stealing their half of the estate. Stella angrily reprimands Stanley for making such accusations against her sister and storms out of the apartment to cool off. A few moments later, Blanche emerges from her bath to find herself alone with Stanley, who proceeds to quiz her about the contents of her wardrobe. He roughly insists that she show him the papers from the sale of the estate. As Blanche grudgingly obliges, Stanley knocks a pile of papers to the floor. Blanche suddenly becomes enraged, screaming that she will burn the papers now that he has touched them. When he asks what they are, she replies that they are "poems a dead boy wrote." Poems from her dead husband, to be more precise. Blanche then gives all of the estate papers to Stanley, daring him to find any wrongdoing on her part. Stanley, refusing to back down, suggests that he will a lawyer friend of his examine the papers. He insists that it is his duty to protect his wife's interests, especially now that she is going to have a baby. Blanche is ecstatic at the news and rushes off to congratulate her sister on the pregnancy.

Stella takes Blanche out for an evening on the town while Stanley and his friends play poker. When the ladies return, Blanche has a brief flirtatious encounter with Mitch, one of Stanley's friends. Blanche asks Stella about Mitch, and when she discovers that Mitch once had a romantic relationship with a dying girl, she feels an immediate kinship with him and turns on that old southern charm. An argument ensues over the radiom, which Blanche wants on and Stanley wants off. Stanley, very drunk by this point, wins the argument by throwing the radio out the window. Stella immediately steps in and puts an end to the poker game, ordering all of the men out of the house. Stanley is furious and hits her viciously. Stella and Blanche rush upstairs to Eunice's apartment while Stanley's friends try to sober him up, but Stanley is too strong for the other men and drives them forcefully out of the house. He screams up to the apartment above, begging Stella to come home, and although Blanche and Eunice are against the idea, Stella, who really loves Stanley deeply, slips down the rickety stairs in her robe. Stella and Stanley stare at each other for a moment. Then they come together with low, animal moans. He falls to his knees and presses his face to her belly, and her eyes go blind with tenderness. He then lifts her off her feet and bears her into the dark flat. Noticing that her sister has slipped out, Blanche comes out on the upper landing in her robe and slips hesitantly down the steps. She stops before the dark entrance of her sister's flat, afraid to enter. Mitch appears from around the corner and comforts her.

Early the following morning, Blanche ventures back to the apartment and finds Stella blissfully content after a night of love-making with Stanley. Blance is angry that Stella would choose to live with such a violent man, but Stella insists that Blanche has just seen Stanley at his worst and that he is really very gentle and is ashamed of his behavior the previous night. Blanche refuses to believe this and accuses Stella of living in denial. She tries to convince her sister to leave Stanley "before it's too late." Blanche claims that she recently ran into a man she had known in college and that he is now a millionaire in Texas. She suggests that this man, Shep Huntleigh, might set her and Stella up in a business if she will just leave Stanley. But Stella refuses to even discuss such a suggestion.

STELLA: ... there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark–that sort of make everything else seem–unimportant.

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 ...

Stanley enters, unheard, and catches the end of this conversation, during which Blanche refers to him as an animal, an ape, a survivor of the stone age, bearing raw meat home from the kill in the jungle. Once again, she begs her sister to leave Stanley and find a more civilized man. Stanley listens quietly, unseen, then slips out of the apartment.

Later, as Eunice and her husband Steve fight in the apartment above, Blanche composes a letter to Shep Huntleigh, asking for his assistance. Stanley interrupts and informs Blanche that he met a man named Shaw who claims to have met Blanche at a hotel called the Flamingo. Blanche nervously denies having ever met the man and insists that he must have her mixed up with some "other party" as the Hotel Flamingo is a somewhat disreputable establishment and she would not dare to be seen there. Stanley isn't ready to give up so easily. He says that this Shaw fellow goes in and out of Laurel all the time, so he'll have him check up on it and clear up any mistake. Stanley then heads off for the Four Deuces, a nearby bar.

Blanche, distracted now, asks Stella if people have been talking about her, if she has heard any rumors. Blanche admits, in a very vague way, that she wasn't "so good" the last two years or so, after Belle Reve had started to slip through her fingers. She brightens up a bit, however, when she announces that Mitch is coming over at seven to take her out on a date. Stella asks if Blanche is really interested in Mitch, to which Blanche replies, "I want to rest! I want to breathe quietly again! Yes--I want Mitch . . . very badly! Just think! If it happens! I can leave here and not be anyone's problem ..."

Stella heads off to join Stanley at the Four Deuces, leaving Blanche alone in the apartment. A very young man soon appears at the door, collecting money for the newspaper. Blanche flirts shamelessly with the young man and even goes so far as to kiss him on the mouth before she finally sends him on his way, saying, "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 exits, somewhat bewildered, and Mitch appears almost immediately around the corner with a bunch of roses.

About two A.M., Blanche and Mitch return from their date. Mitch apologizes, feeling that she must have found him terribly boring, Blanche insists that, if the date was not all that it could be, it was all her fault. She then asks Mitch, in French, if he would like to sleep with her tonight. But Mitch, of course, does not understand the foreign language, and when he attempts to touch her, she reprimands him for not being a gentleman. Mitch tells Blanche about his dying mother, and admits that she wants him to marry and settle down before she passes away. Although she tries to hide it, Blanche is ecstatic. She opens up a little, telling Mitch about her first husband, the boy who wrote her the poems. Apparently, he had committed suicide after Blanche caught him having sex with another man. Mitch is touched by the pain she still feels over this incident and comforts her, suggesting that maybe they have found each other for a reason. As the scene ends, Blanche huddles in his embrace.

Some time later, mid-September now, Stella is preparing a birthday party for Blanche. Stanley, however, is not in the mood and informs Stella that he has been checking up on her sister. He tells Stella what he has learned, that after Blanche lost Belle Reve, she moved into the Hotel Flamingo where she was seen with many different men, that she developed quite a reputation, and that she was finally kicked out of the high school she taught at for having a sexual relationship with a seventeen-year-old boy. Stella flatly refuses to believe these rumors, nevertheless admitting that some small part of it may be true. She demands that Stanley behave tonight as they have invited Mitch over for cake and ice-cream. Stanley, however, has already told Mitch everything he knows. Stella is furious, but Stanley shows no remorse, insisting that Mitch is a good buddy of his and he's not going to let him "jump in a tank with a school of sharks." Stanley goes on to tell Stella that he has bought Blanche a bus ticket and is planning to kick her out of the apartment. When Blanche emerges from the bathroom, she can tell by the look on Stella's face that something has happend. Stella attempts to deny it, but Blanche knows that something has happened.

Almost an hour later, Stanley, Blanche, and Stella sit silently waiting for Mitch who has obviously not arrived. Blanche attempts to break the ice with a parrot joke, but no is amused. Stella glares furiously at Stanley. She calls him a pig and orders him to clear the table, which he does by hurling plates, cups, and saucers to the floor, announcing as he finishes, "My place is cleared! You want me to clear your places?" Stella bursts into tears as Stanley stalks out of the house. Blanche begs Stella to tell her what has happened, but Stella still denies any knowledge of anything out of the ordinary. Blanche senses, however, that Mitch is not coming and that Stella knows why. She tries to telephone him, but there is no answer. Stanley then returns and presents her with a birthday prestent--a ticket back to Laurel on the greyhound bus. Now Blanche bursts into tears, retreating into the next room. Stella reprimands Stanley for being so cruel. She says that, as a girl, nobody was as tender and trusting as Blanche, but people like Stanley abused her and forced her to change.

Later that evening, Blanche is alone in the apartment when Mitch finally arrives, unshaven, in his work clothes. She pretends as if nothing is wrong and attempts to kiss him, but he pushes her away. He then drags her into the light, pointing out that he's never really gotten a good look at her. He confronts her with the story Stanley has told him. Blanche denies it all, but when Mitch reveals that he has double-checked the story over the phone with several people in Laurel, Blanche admits to having many intimacies with strangers. "After the death of Allan," she says, "intimacies with strangers was all I seemed able to fill my empty heart with." Mitch is furious about the way she led him on, pretending to have such old-fashioned morals. He grabs her roughly and tries to kiss her, saying he wants what he's been missing all summer. Blanche offers to give in if he will marry her, but Mitch no longer has any interest in marriage. He storms out of the house, exclaiming, "You're not clean enough to bring in the house with my mother."

A few hours later, Stanley returns home alone. Blanche has been drinking heavily since Mitch's departure and is rather drunk. She has been packing her trunk. Stanley has had a bit too much to drink himself. He informs Blance that he has dropped Stella off at the hospital to have the baby. The doctors don't expect it to come until the morning, however, so he has come home for a few hours. Although Blanche is terrified at the prospect of spending the evening alone in the apartment with Stanley, she feigns indifference. She claims to have received an invitation from Shep Huntleigh to join him on a Caribbean cruise, but Stanley isn't buying her stories anymore. He begins to undress, revealing that he has come home to rape Blanche, saying , "We've had this date with each other from the beginning!" Blanche struggles, attacking Stanley with a broken bottle-top, but he is too strong for her, and as the scene ends, he carries her to the bed.

Several weeks later, Stella packs Blanche's things as Stanley, Steve, Mitch, and Pablo sit around the kitchen table playing poker. Eunice offers to help with Blanche's things, and Stella confides in her that she doesn't know if she's done the right thing. She says she couldn't believe Blanche's story and go on living with Stanley. Eunice comforts her, "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 and inquires whether there has been any word yet from Shep Huntleigh. Stella gently tells her that they have not heard anything yet. She informs Blanche that have made "arrangements for her to rest in the country." A doctor and a nurse soon appear around the corner of the building and climb the steps to the porch. There is about them the unmistakable aura of a state institution. When Blanche sees the Doctor, she becomes terrified, exclaiming, "You are not the gentleman I was expecting." She flees into the bedroom. The nurse is sent in after her. Blanche screams and tries to break past the nurse, but the heavy woman catches her and pinions her arms. Finally, the doctor manages to calm her, and as Blanche is led off to the mental institution, she holds tight to the doctor's arm, saying, "Whoever you are--I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." After an awkward moment, the men return to their poker game.

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