Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
On a streetcar named Desire, Blanche DuBois travels from the railroad station in New Orleans to a street named Elysian Fields, where her sister, Stella, pregnant and married to Stanley Kowalski, lives in a run-down apartment building in the old French Quarter. Having lost her husband, parents, teaching position, and old family home—Belle Reve in Laurel, Mississippi—Blanche has nowhere to turn but to her one remaining close relative.
Thirty years old, Blanche is emotionally and economically destitute. The most traumatic experience in her life was the discovery that her husband—a poet whom she had married at the tender age of sixteen—was a homosexual. Soon after she had taunted him for his sexual impotence, he committed suicide. Their confrontation had occurred in Moon Lake Casino, ubiquitous in Williams’s plays as a house of illusions. In her subsequent guilt over his death, she found temporary release in a series of sexual affairs, the latest having involved one of her young students and resulting in her dismissal.
She is horrified at the circumstances in which her sister Stella lives and at the man to whom she is married. Polish, uneducated, inarticulate, and working class, but sexually attractive, he has won Stella by his sheer masculinity. Stella, according to production notes by director Elia Kazan, has been narcotized by his sexual superiority. A fourth important character, Stanley’s poker-playing companion Mitch, is attracted to Blanche. She is attracted to his kindness to her, for he is gentle in his manner, as Stanley is not. Blanche refers at one point to having found God in Mitch’s arms, a religious reference frequently made by Williams’s characters at important moments in their lives.
The action of the play, then, as in Greek tragedy, consists of the final events in Blanche’s life. Tensions grow between her and Stanley, even as her physical attraction to him becomes palpable. She expresses her contempt for his coarseness and animality. In scene after scene, she reminds him constantly of their cultural differences. Their hostilities develop into a Strindbergian battle of the sexes for the affection of Stella. Blanche eventually loses not only Stella but also Mitch, a possible husband.
The theatrically ironic climax...
(The entire section is 937 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Two streetcars, one named Desire, the other Cemeteries, brings Blanche DuBois on a spring afternoon to the Elysian Fields address of her sister Stella, whom she has not seen since Stella’s marriage to Stanley Kowalski. Blanche, dressed in a fluttering white garden party outfit, jars with the shabbiness and menace of the neighborhood from her first appearance. The proprietress of the building admits her to the Kowalski apartment a few minutes before Stella’s return. One of Blanche’s weaknesses becomes immediately apparent when, after a successful search for Stanley’s whiskey, she drinks a half glass of it neat.
When Stella returns, Blanche makes only a token effort to hide her dismay at her sister’s new surroundings. Stella is happy with her wild man and regards Blanche’s criticisms with good-humored tolerance. Blanche turns on Stella and defends herself against a fancied accusation that she allowed Belle Reve, the family mansion, to be lost. When Stanley enters some time later, he greets Blanche brusquely. When he mentions her dead husband, Blanche becomes first confused and shaken, then ill. Later, while Blanche is in the bath, Stanley and Stella are free to discuss the implications of her sudden visit. Stella asks him not to tell Blanche that she is going to have a baby. Stanley, who is suspicious over the loss of Belle Reve and imagines himself cheated of property, tears open Blanche’s trunk looking for papers. Blanche enters and, using a pretext to get Stella out of the house, presents him with legal papers detailing the forfeiture of all the DuBois property. Blanche demonstrates a bewildering variety of moods in this scene, flirting with Stanley, discussing the legal transactions with calm irony, and becoming abruptly hysterical when Stanley picks up old love letters written by her dead husband. Her reaction to the news of Stella’s pregnancy is reverent wonderment.
It is Stanley’s poker night with three cronies, one of whom, Mitch, is a large, sentimental man who lives with his mother. Stella and Blanche enter after an evening in the French Quarter that they extend to two-thirty in the morning to keep out of the way of the poker game. They cross into the bedroom, separated only by portieres from the living room, and meet Mitch leaving the bathroom. Blanche looks after him with some interest as he returns to the game. She begins undressing in a shaft of light through the portieres that she knows will expose her to the men in the next room. She dons a robe in time for Mitch’s next trip to the bathroom. Out of the game, he stops to talk to Blanche, and during their conversation she adopts an air of primness and innocence. Not wanting Mitch to see how old she really is, she asks him to cover the naked light bulb with a little Chinese lantern she bought in the French Quarter. They dance briefly to some music from the radio, but when the radio distracts the poker players, Stanley becomes violent and throws the radio out of the window, which sets off displays of temper that involve everyone in the...
(The entire section is 1242 words.)