Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 933
The play opens on a street corner in New Orleans. On the corner is a building containing a downstairs and an upstairs flat. Two women, one white and one black, are speaking on the stairs to the upstairs flat. The white woman is Eunice, who owns the flats. Two men, Stanley and Mitch, approach the building. Stanley yells for Stella, his wife, who comes onto the porch of the lower flat, and he tosses a package of meat to her. He then tells Stella that he is going bowling, and Stella leaves the flat to follow him to the bowling alley.
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Once they have left, Blanche, Stella’s sister, arrives carrying a suitcase. She is elegantly dressed and does not fit in with the hectic surroundings. When Blanche inquires about her sister, Eunice tells Blanche that Stella and her husband are at the bowling alley, and the black woman offers to fetch them. In the meantime, Eunice lets Blanche into Stanley and Stella’s flat. The flat itself is in general disarray, and a folding bed has been set up in the kitchen to prepare for Blanche’s arrival. Blanche sends Eunice away, finds a bottle of whiskey lying in the closet, and takes a shot before Stella arrives.
When Stella does arrive, they greet each other with pleasantries, and Blanches asks Stella for some liquor, acknowledging the whiskey bottle and pretending that it is the first time she has noticed it. As they interact, Blanche carries most of the conversation: she is critical of Stella’s living conditions and appearance, and it is revealed that Blanche has allegedly come to New Orleans to rest her nerves after taking a leave of absence from teaching English in a high school in Laurel, Alabama. After asking about Stanley, whom she has never met, Blanche explains that she has lost the plantation, Belle Reve, that Stella and Blanche had lived in as children. She reveals that after Stella left, the rest of their family had died, and funeral costs meant that she could no longer afford to keep the plantation. She accuses Stella of leaving Laurel to go lie in bed with her Polish husband, Stanley. Crying, Stella goes to the bathroom to wash her face.
As Stella enters the bathroom, Stanley and his friends arrive laughing, joking, and planning their next outing. Stanley enters the flat, and Blanche introduces herself. Stanley is relatively unfazed by her presence, but he maintains conversation while he changes his clothes. He mentions that Stella had spoken about Blanche often and notes that Blanche had been married before, asking what happened to her husband. Blanche reveals that her husband died, and she collapses into a chair.
The next day, Stella and Stanley are talking while Blanche bathes. Blanche is preparing to go out with Stella for the evening, because Stanley is having his friends over for a poker night. Stella tells Stanley to compliment Blanche when she gets out of the bath. At this point it is revealed that Stella is pregnant; she does not want Stanley to reveal this fact to Blanche, because it would upset her. Stanley presses Stella for information on Belle Reve, suggesting that an estate is not simply lost. He says that Blanche must have sold it and thus has been withholding information and money from Stella. When Stella attempts to defend her sister, Stanley begins rifling through Blanche’s luggage, pulling out dresses, furs, and jewelry, which he believes to be expensive pieces that she bought with the proceeds of Belle Reve, although Stella explains to him that they are mostly cheap costume pieces that she had owned for years. Stella steps onto the porch to get some air, and Stanley waits inside to speak with Blanche.
Blanche finishes bathing, begins getting dressed, asks Stanley to help her with the buttons on the back of her dress, and begins fishing for compliments. Stanley tells her that he “don’t go in for that stuff,” and Blanche acknowledges his frank nature, telling him that she sees it as a manly trait. Stella comes in from the porch, and Blanche asks her to run to the drugstore to get a Coke. As Stanley interrogates Blanche about any potential money she has received from selling Belle Reve, Blanche flirts with him, observing how “judicial” and assertive he is. He is indignant toward her flirtations, and demands to know where she keeps her papers. She tells him that everything she owns is in her luggage and warns him that she would never cheat her sister out of money. She hands him some financial papers, but he rummages through her luggage and finds love letters that Blanche’s dead husband wrote to her. This angers her, and she insists he give them back to her. She finds her financial papers to show Stanley, proving that Belle Reve was lost to the bank. She explains that her family was not frugal; over the years, they lost land, bit by bit, until only the house and a few acres remained. Stanley states that he only wanted to know about any potential money because his wife’s best interest is his best interest, especially now that she is pregnant.
Blanche leaves to meet Stella as she returns from the drugstore and congratulates her on the baby. Stella apologizes for Stanley’s behavior, but Blanche explains that she treated the interrogations as a joke and flirted with Stanley throughout the process. Stanley’s friends begin arriving for a poker party, and the two women leave to see an evening show.