A Streetcar Named Desire Summary

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams


The story begins when Blanche pays an unexpected visit to her sister Stella. They haven't heard from each other for a while and it is rather strange that Blanche is about to stay for a long time at the sister's apartment. However, Stella is glad to see her sister again, but soon gets the shock of her life. She learns that their family house, Belle Reve, is lost forever under rather unclear circumstances. Blanche doesn't share much of the information and moans about how hard it was for her to deal with the issues and the death of close family members.


However, when Stanley, Stella's husband, arrives home and learns about the loss of the house without concrete evidence, he gets frustrated with the fact that Blanche is fooling them both. Unlike Stella, he is uninterested in Blanche psychological condition and presses her to tell the truth. Blanche reveals that the house is lost on a mortgage.


The following evening, a poker game is organized in Stella and Stanley's apartment, so girls decide to go out to avoid the crowd. After they get back home, Stanley is frustrated with them talking and listening to music. On top of all, one of his friends and colleagues, Mitch, seems to have thrown the eye on Blanche. Heavily drunk and displeased with the whole situation, Stanley starts a fight with girls and hits Stella. Worried for their safety, Stella and Blanche run to the neighbor on the second floor. However, Stella soon returns to Stanley after his persistence in calling. Blanche runs into Mitch on the stairs and spends the night with him there, flirting.


After a tough night, everything seems to have fallen in its place. Still, Blanche is shocked by the turmoil from the previous night, but Stella seems to be fine with that. Unwilling to accept the fact that her sister is a victim of domestic violence, Blanche tries to persuade Stella to leave Stanley. Unfortunately, Stanley enters the house unnoticed and overhears them talking, but pretends he hasn't heard anything. However, he decides to pay her back by digging around her mysterious past. The following day, when he gets back from work, he directly asks her if she knows someone named Shaw. Blanche is agitated with this question but decides to play wise, so she replies vaguely. Still, she is worried that people know more about her than she wants to, and this makes her hysterical. Mitch is about to come to pick her up soon and her self-confidence has vanished. In order to cheer herself up, she flirts with the young man who has come to their apartment to collect money for some newspapers. She goes as far as to kiss him just before Mitch's arrival.


Visibly mirthless, Mitch and Blanche return from a date. Although it's obvious that the date has been unsuccessful, Blanche is not giving up. She invites Mitch into the apartment and tries to make up for the lousy evening. She lights candles and brings a drink to both of them. However, even this doesn't seem to get them into the right mood. Mitch mumbles about his body weight and strength, while Blanche speaks French, although Mitch doesn't understand a word of it. Finally, they manage to start a meaningful conversation that turns out to be one of the rare sincere confessions seen in the novel. Mitch opens up about his life with a dying mother, while Blanche recalls memories of her first husband who killed himself after she had found out that he was a homosexual. Realizing how similar they are, Mitch asks Blanche to be his girlfriend.


Some time has passed and the following scene opens on Blanche's birthday. While Stella is making a birthday cake and carefully counts the number of candles in order not to exceed the number Blanche likes to take as her age, Stanley walks in. Disregarding the special occasion, he shares with Stella shocking truth about Blanche's past. Turns out that Blanche has been lying to them about her break from work in order to recover mentally. Actually, she was expelled from work and declared unfit for the position of a teacher after kissing a seventeen-year-old boy. Furthermore, she was famous in Laurel for the lack of moral. It was said that she had slept with countless men until everyone started avoiding her. With nowhere to go, she came to their apartment for an unlimited time, or that's what she believes.


In order to get rid of her and provoke her, Stanley has bought her a ticket to Laurel. Furthermore, Stanley has also spread the news to Mitch, who now doesn't want to date Blanche. When Blanche enters the scene, she notices a change in Stella's mood. The potential party turns into a miserable attempt of celebration, where Blanche is the only one trying to be cheerful. Her attempt fails when Stanley starts another fight with Stella and breaks his plate on the floor. The ringing of the phone saves them from a more serious incident. Blanche is sure it's Mitch, but it turns out to be Stanley's friend inviting him to join him for bowling. He finishes the conversation and returns to the table. Smirking at Blanche he wishes her happy birthday and hands her an envelope. Blanche is happy to receive a present, but soon regrets it. When she sees the ticket to Laurel, she leaves the room. Stella and Stanley can hear her vomiting. Appalled with Stanley's behavior, Stella wants to know why he has done that. Stanley explains how sick and tired he is with Blanche, and wants everything to be as before. However, Stella is not listening- she is in labor and wants to go to a hospital.


Later that evening, while Blanche is alone in the apartment, Mitch shows up. Blanche believes that he's there to ask for forgiveness, but his intentions are different. Visibly drunk, he disregards manners and gets straight to the point- he wants to let her know that he knows the truth, and demands an explanation. She admits that promiscuity was a cure for her sadness after losing her husband and refuses to admit that she has lied to anyone. Mitch sees an opportunity to come closer to her and demands to have sex, now that he knows she is not as innocent as she presented. Overtly upset, she warns him to keep away from her before she starts screaming. Eventually, he retreats and leaves the apartment.


Unfortunately, troubles for Blanche have just started. Heavily drunk, she puts on her white dress and imagines to have a conversation with her admirers. Stanley arrives at this scene, also drunk. She informs him that she has just received a telegram from her former suitor Shep and has begun packing for the trip to join him, but Stanley sees through her and immediately knows it's a lie. His usual hostile attitude towards her progresses to something more sinister as he smirks at her and intimidates her in various ways. Unable to defend herself, she succumbs to his power. He rapes her.


The final scene opens up several weeks later. Stella has returned home with her baby boy and is now packing Blanche's things. The apartment is full of people. Stanley and his friends are playing poker, while Eunice is hanging with Stella. Blanche is taking a bath and everything seems normal. Only when Stella complains to Eunice that maybe she hasn't done the right thing, a reader can assume that something out of the ordinary is going on. Soon, a doctor and nurse appear on the door. Since Blanche expects to see Shep, she gets a shock of her life. For a while she tries to resist, but when her mind fails in coping with the reality, she switches to a fantasy world and voluntarily takes doctor's hand to guide her, leaving the apartment for good, with no more interest in what's going on around her.


Although Blanche is the center of the novel and seems to be its main focus, the author uses her character to address the social problem of women's position in post-war America. Throughout the entire novel, we see numerous examples of women's dependence on men. When Stella gets beaten by Stanley, she comes back to him the same evening. Enthralled with Stanley's bestial power, she swears to Blanche that what they feel for each other is true love. Although she is being honest, the truth is that even if she wanted to leave him, she had no place to go. Belle Reve is lost for good and Stanley is the only one who makes money in the house. On one occasion, she even says to Blanche that he gives her no money, and when he does, it's very little. Stella willingly endures being beaten and yelled at, all in name of love. Blanche, on the other hand, seems to be more rational about it, although she is the least rational character in the novel. She tries to persuade Stella to leave Stanley, for being common, violent and undignified to be her husband. However, all she can offer is the idea, with no material means to bring this to action. When it comes to her own issues, Blanche tries to solve it by looking for a suitor who would marry her and get her out of the limbo. At first, she tries to contact Shep Huntleigh, hoping that she would seduce him and get in hold of his fortune. To achieve that, Blanche has to look great. This explains her obsession with fashion and youth, as well as her silly habit of lying about her age and worrying about getting old. Anyway, since there's no word from Shep, Blanche decides to take chances with Mitch. Although he is almost as common as Stanley, she willingly ignores it and pushes the relationship towards marriage. At the very end, when Blanche's destiny is sealed and there is no hope for her rescue, Blanche huts down the reality and sees the doctor as her savior. In one sentence, before she disappears forever, she reveals the essence of her character and exact reason of her downfall: "Whoever you are-I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."


On the other hand, Tennessee pictures men as sturdy, loud and decisive. Bestiality which the author gives them turns them into true alpha males. Stanley's violence and carelessness about the true wellbeing of his pregnant wife is obvious. But Mitch is somewhat more interesting since he's the only man described as more subtle and somewhat gentle. However, when it comes to primary urges, he is too quite aggressive. The best example of this is his attempt to force Blanche to have sex with him just before she got raped by Stanley. This is when he realizes that she has denied him, unjustly, something that he should have got. However, unlike Stanley, Mitch knows when to retreat, while Stanley cannot or doesn't want to control himself. Although these two men are the best representatives of male oppressors, here and there a reader can find other examples of domestic violence, like when Stella, Blanche, and Stanley hear Steve and Eunice fighting upstairs.


Another thing that the author deals with is psychological impairment. Right from the beginning of the novel, it's obvious that Blanche is having some issues. She comes to Stella's apartment visibly anxious- immediately looking for a drink, she talks about the importance of long bath in order to calm down (throughout the novel, she takes a lot of those long baths), but there are also stories about decay, death, etc. Blanche is unable to handle reality. If alcohol fails to make her overcome a problem, she gladly turns to her own imagination and gives in to the world of fantasy. In order to emphasize, or announce her upcoming nervous breakdown, the author introduces several symbols- shadows in the room, the varsouviana polka or cries from down the street. These are quite interesting because all of them are interwoven with Blanche's past. Shadows symbolize darkness and death and Blanche can often be heard speaking of those- be it the death of her first husband or close family members. Also, there is polka which Blanche hears often. According to her story, she danced the polka with her late husband just before his death. Since then, it is a symbol of remorse, since Blanche feels guilty for his suicide.


Cries from the street usually add to the intensity of her feeling at the moment or foresee the outcome of a certain event, like when Mitch enters the apartment after hearing the truth about Blanche and a blind Mexican woman who sells flowers for the dead appears in the scene. It can be heard calling for many times, until she comes right to Blanche's door, clearly symbolizing the futileness and final end of Mitch and Blanche's relationship.


Another example of the symbolism of voices heard from beyond the scene is when Blanche describes to Stella her first contact with Stanley and tamale vendor can be heard saying: "Red-hot!" Here, the author alludes to their animosity and rivalry to win Stella's affection. Constantly trying to undermine each other's integrity, their relationship enters a dangerous stage where someone had to be hurt eventually. However, it seems that Stanley puts more effort in plotting to hurt Blanche. The last line of the novel shows that he perceives his relation with Blanche as a poker party, at which he obviously wins.




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