Blanche is the central character and appears in every scene. The action of the play revolves almost entirely around her.
Blanche is a classic Southern Belle, to all appearances genteel and ladylike and chaste, the representative of an old and decaying aristocracy which is being rapidly displaced by the social changes of early twentieth-century America. Without a home of her own, Blanche has been cast adrift and struggles to cope. She normally hides her anxieties under a somewhat domineering exterior as she attempts to impose her ideas on her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley. She is particularly locked in a contest of wills with Stanley who deeply resents her interference.
As the play wears on Blanche's failings are exposed; contrary to the high ideals and lofty morals which she espouses, she lies, drinks and sleeps around. Therefore she is nothing like as refined as she pretends to be. But her vulnerability also becomes clear; she has never recovered emotionally from the shock of losing her young husband to suicide years ago, and she also had to face the burden, alone, of trying to keep the old family plantation going. In the end, her hysterical tendencies, Stanley’s brutality, and Mitch’s rejection overwhelm her and she breaks down completely. It is hard not to feel pity for her by the end of the play, even if she has brought a lot of her troubles upon herself.
Stella is younger and quieter than Blanche, and generally appears uncomfortable in her sister’s presence. The main difference between the sisters is summed up in their own words when Stella remarks: ‘I never anything like your energy, Blanche,’ to which Blanche replies, ‘Well, I never had your beautiful self-control’ (scene 1)
Stella often appears rather cowed by Blanche when they are talking together, but she is quietly resolute. She never wavers in her love and support for Stanley despite Blanche insisting that he is an entirely unsuitable husband. Being of a more conciliatory and calmer nature than either her husband or sister, she attempts to mediate between them. She does genuinely love her sister, and tries to make her comfortable as she can, but in the end she cannot cope with her.
Stanley, quite unlike his wife Stella, is of working-class background, very much the rough, down-to-earth, plain-speaking, uncultured type. His boorish behaviour and lack of manners attract Blanche’s criticism. Being dominant and hot-tempered, he does not stand for this, and ultimately crushes Blanche for daring to challenge his control.
There does seem to be a certain unpleasantly cruel streak in Stanley in his treatment of Blanche, and he is undoubtedly crude, but he is also capable of great tenderness towards his wife Stella. Although from such different backgrounds, he and Stella are extremely compatible - something quite beyond Blanche's comprehension. It is true, though, that Blanche does appear to be somewhat attracted as well as repelled by him.