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...
(The entire section is 937 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Streetcar Named Desire Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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...
(The entire section is 1242 words.)
Scenes 1 and 2 Summary
Scenes 1 and 2
The play opens in a shabby district of New Orleans where Stanley Kowalski lives with his wife Stella. After they leave for the bowling alley, where Stanley is to play with his friend Mitch, a well-dressed woman arrives carrying a suitcase. This is Blanche DuBois, Stella's sister. Hardly believing that this is Stella's home, Blanche ungraciously accepts the invitation of the landlady, Eunice, to wait inside. She appears nervous and highly strung and searches out a supply of alcohol, supposedly to calm her nerves. When Stella returns they greet each other fondly, but there is a hint of unease between them.
On his return home, Stanley meets Blanche and they talk amicably, but as the conversation develops and as details of Blanche's past come out—particularly her marriage to a husband who is now dead, and the loss of Belle Reve, the family's property—we see Stanley beginning to distrust her. Blanche makes herself very much at home, taking long and frequent baths and drinking Stanley's alcohol, even whilst making disparaging comments about Stanley and Stella's standard of living.
(The entire section is 181 words.)
Scenes 3, 4, 5, 6 Summary
The tension in the house continues in the next scene when the sisters return after an evening out to the house where Stanley is holding a poker party. Resenting the interest that Mitch, one of his friends, shows in Blanche, the now drunken Stanley shows his jealousy of Blanche and becomes violent with Stella, who we now know is pregnant. After retreating briefly upstairs to the Hubbells' apartment, Stella returns to Stanley and they go off to bed together.
Despite this brutality and Blanche's attempts to persuade her to leave him, Stella insists that she loves Stanley and will not leave him. Overhearing Blanche's hostile comments about him, Stanley determines to follow his suspicions about her and to find out more about her recent past. He discovers that she left Laurel, her home town, because of rumors about her promiscuity and her relationship with a young student.
When Stanley hints to Blanche about what he knows, she is clearly terrified that it will all come out and tries to present a glossed-over version to Stella, focusing on her fear of growing old alone and hinting at a possible future with Mitch. After Stella's departure, Blanche flirts with a young man who arrives to collect newspaper subscriptions.
Blanche and Mitch's date in the next scene is not a success, but when they return home they speak more openly and Blanche tells Mitch of her...
(The entire section is 263 words.)
Scenes 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 Summary
Scenes 7 and 8
Shortly afterwards there is a birthday dinner for Blanche, but Mitch, having been told by Stanley about Blanche's past, does not show up. The meal is awkwardly silent and, to make it worse, Stanley presents Blanche with a bus ticket back home as a supposed birthday gift. Stella complains at his cruelty, but then goes into labor. Stanley takes her to the hospital.
Mitch then visits Blanche, who is alone in the apartment. In a drunken state he tells her that he knows about her past and, when she tries to explain, dismisses her explanation as lies. He tries to force her to have sex but she resists and threatens to call for help. Left alone again, she drinks more alcohol and loses herself in delusions of a rich millionaire who will look after her.
Stanley returns from the hospital to find Blanche dressed up in a ball gown and tiara, trying to pack her suitcase. He mocks her, tells her what he thinks of her, and allows his anger to be transformed into sexual violence as he carries her off to bed to rape her.
A scene change denotes the passing of time at this point and we next see Stella, returned from the hospital, unwilling to believe her sister's story and in agreement with Stanley that Blanche should be certified as insane. Blanche packs her things, believing that she is to leave with a rich admirer. While she is taking another bath and...
(The entire section is 330 words.)