A Streetcar Named Desire Summary

A Streetcar Named Desire is a play by Tennessee Williams about a Southern woman named Blanche DuBois who moves in with her sister, Stella, in New Orleans.

  • Blanche moves in with her sister, Stella. Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski, dislikes Blanche, and tensions between the two quickly escalate. Stella, who is pregnant, initially sympathizes with her sister.
  • Blanche finds respite in Stanley's friend Mitch, who's attracted to her. He loses interest in her when he learns of her promiscuous past

  • Stanley rapes Blanche in the heat of an argument. Blanche has a breakdown and is taken to a psychiatric institution in the final scene.

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Last Updated on April 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1036

Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire takes place in a vibrant, lower-class neighborhood in New Orleans. Blanche DuBois, an aging southern belle from a plantation in Laurel, Alabama, arrives to visit her pregnant sister, Stella. Upon meeting her sister, Blanche claims that she has lost the mansion in which she and her sister grew up, and she has been making ends meet as a schoolteacher. She also claims that she is visiting to calm her nerves. Stella’s husband, Stanley, is suspicious of Blanche, and as a result of Blanche’s genteel behavior, Stanley believes that she thinks of herself as above them. He hates her flirtatious and pretentious manner, and he insists that she share any money from the proceeds of the mansion with Stella and himself, but Blanche shows him that she lost the house to the bank and that she is nearly broke.

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One evening, Stella and Blanche return from a night out while Stanley and his friends are playing poker. One of Stanley’s friends, Mitch, finds himself sexually and emotionally attracted to Blanche and attempts several times to speak with her. He tells her about how he is taking care of his sick mother, and they share a cigarette. When Blanche turns on a radio and begins dancing with Mitch, Stanley becomes enraged at the interruptions to the poker game and Blanche’s flirtatious attitude, and he throws the radio out the window. Stella, seeing Stanley’s drunken and inappropriate reaction, insists that they end the poker game, but Stanley takes her offstage and beats her. Stella forgives him while Blanche shares a cigarette with Mitch and their interest in one another grows.

The next day, Blanche tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley, but Stella claims that Blanche is overreacting. As Blanche begins explaining how vulgar and brutish Stanley is, he walks into the next room and overhears Blanche denigrating him. After she is finished, Stanley pretends not to have heard them talking, but when Stella runs to his arms to hug him, he stares at Blanche challengingly. After this interaction, Blanche begins writing a letter to a former boyfriend, Shep Huntleigh, who has made millions in the oil business. She believes he will help them escape, but Stella refuses and Blanche stops writing the letter. Stanley comes back home and mentions that he spoke to his auto-parts supplier, Shaw, who regularly travels through Laurel. Shaw has told him that Blanche used to stay in the ill-reputed Flamingo Hotel. Banche is shaken by this but denies it.

Blanche plans to go on a date with Mitch, and she reveals to Stella that she feels insecure about her age and hopes that Mitch will not judge her because she does not plan to have sex with him. Stella and Stanley go on a date while Blanche is waiting for Mitch to arrive. As she is waiting alone, a young boy comes collecting money for the local paper. Blanche does not have any money, but she flirts with him and kisses him on the mouth before sending him away. Mitch arrives with a bouquet of flowers, and they go on their date. After several more dates, Mitch is concerned that he has not been entertaining to Blanche, but her mind is elsewhere. She has been thinking about her late husband, who killed himself after Blanche discovered him having sex with another man. Mitch tells Blanche that his mother is dying, and they decide that they are meant to be together because they both understand loneliness.

After this date ends, it is Blanche’s birthday, and Stella is setting up decorations while Blanche bathes. Stanley comes home from the auto shop and tells Stella that he has learned about Blanche’s past: she had a reputation for being a loose woman in Laurel, and she was fired for having an affair with one of her students. He has informed Mitch and also purchased Blanche a birthday present: a one-way bus ticket back to Laurel. During the birthday party, conversation around the table is awkward, and Mitch does not arrive. When Stella criticizes Stanley’s eating habits, he throws his plates to the floor and leaves. When he comes back, he gives Stella the bus ticket back to laurel, and she becomes sick, running to the bathroom gagging. Stella is angry with Stanley for his insensitive treatment of Blanche. Stella begins to go into labor, and Stanley takes her to the hospital.

Later that night, Blanche is drunk, and Mitch arrives to break up with her. She admits to the fact that she was promiscuous in Laurel and was fired from her teaching job for seducing one of her students. Mitch, though disgusted that she has lied to him, attempts to have sex with her. She screams “fire” as a way to draw attention to the flat, and Mitch runs out the door. Stanley comes back from the hospital, saying that Stella will be at the hospital until morning. He is in high spirits because of his son’s birth. Blanche, drunk, tells him that she will be leaving soon because Shep, her former suitor, has agreed to go travelling with her. She also tells him that she has broken up with Mitch. Stanley knows that she is lying about Shep, and he knows that Mitch broke up with her. In light of these lies, he begins insulting Blanche for her holier-than-thou attitude and makes fun of her appearance. He advances toward her, and when Blanche attempts to defend herself with a broken bottle, he grabs her arms and rapes her.

In the final scene of the play, Blanche is preparing to leave, having convinced herself that Shep is going to come to take her away. In reality, she is to be sent to a psychiatric institution. Stella admits that Blanche told her about the rape, but Stella refuses to believe her sister, thinking it an imagined story brought on by her sister’s insanity. When the doctor and nurse come to take Blanche away, she initially resists but eventually accepts defeat. Though Stella has doubts about her sister’s fate and begins crying, she holds her newborn child as Stanley comforts her.

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