In Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, what happened to the plantation Belle Reve?
The arrival of Stanley Kowalski’s wife’s troubled sister, Blanche, presages dramatic revelations and conflict between the characters in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley and Stella live a simple existence, he working and bowling, she taking care of their apartment while expecting a baby. Stanley is crude, but loves his wife; Stella is happy with her life and is clearly still very sexually attracted to her husband. When Blanche enters the picture, Stanley and Stella’s existence is immediately and dramatically altered. Blanche is not only an unwanted adult presence in this tiny apartment; she is a condescending, snobbish critic of everything about Stanley. Details about her background, however, begin to reveal a woman who is not just running away from her past, but from reality as well. And, this is where the fate of Belle Reve comes in. Belle Reve is the palatial estate, a classic southern plantation, on which Blanche and Stella were raised. Stella and Stanley’s socioeconomic plight is obvious by Williams’ setting descriptions. The full extent of Stella and Blanche’s fall from grace, as least with respect to their financial status, comes out when Stanley is questioning Blanche about the latter’s papers, which this insensitive, uneducated man has deemed his right to investigate:
STANLEY: I don't want no ifs, ands or butsl What's all the rest of them papers? and
[She hands him the entire box. He carries it to ·the table starts to examine the papers.]
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 Iaugh] The four-letter word deprived us of our plantation, till was 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. [She pours the contents at the envelope on the with table] Here all of them are, all papers! I hereby endow you them! Take them, peruse them-commit memory, them to even! I think it's wonderfully fitting that Belle Reve should finally be this bunch of old papers in your big, capable my hands!
Belle Reve has been shuttered; Blanche and Stella’s family lost everything, and Blanche only continues, unsuccessfully, to present a veneer of the respectability her family once enjoyed. The loss of the plantation and Blanche’s descent into alcoholism and extreme promiscuity has condemned her to a life of moral and emotional degradation. Blanche uses the loss of Belle Reve to try and impose guilt on her sister, but she is a pathetic creature the final demise of whom is brought about by Stanley's viciousness.