A streetcar named desire

  • Created by: Hbrandxx
  • Created on: 14-05-17 11:29

Scene 1 summary

  • Stella goes to watch Stanley and Mitch bowling.
  • Blanche arrives at Elysian Fields and waits for her sister.
  • Stella returns and they greet each other.
  • Blanche talks about losing Belle Reve and the death of her family members.
  • Stanley meets Blanche; akward tension as it's evident they are polar opposites.
  • Blanche reveals her husband died when they were very young.
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Scene 2 summary

  • Blanche is bathing (motif).
  • Stanley demands to know what happened to Belle Reve.
  • Stella attempts to defend Blanche.
  • Stella leaves and Blanche finishes bathing.
  • Stanley confronts Blanche and she attempts to flirt with him.
  • Stella's pregnancy is revealed.
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Scene 3 summary

  • Poker night: Stanley and his friends are drinking and playing poker.
  • Stella and Blanche return from an evening out.
  • Blanche meets Mitch.
  • Stanley becomes violent with Stella.
  • Stella and Blanche retreat to the apartment upstairs.
  • Stella returns to Stanley and they make love.
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Scene 4 summary

  • Blanche and Stella discuss the previous night; Blanche is shocked at Stella's acceptance of Stanley's behaviour.
  • Blanche critises Stanley.
  • Stanley is secretly listening to her criticism. 
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Scene 5 summary

  • Upsairs, Eustice and Steve fight.
  • Stanley hints at the knowledge of Blanche's promiscuous past.
  • Blanche flirts with a young man who collects newspaper subscriptions.
  • Mitch arrives and they go on their date.
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Scene 6 summary

  • Blanche and Mitch come back from their date.
  • They have a conversation that highlights their differences.
  • Blanche tells the story of how her husband committed suicide after she discovered him in bed with a man.
  • Mitch comforts her and they discuss marriage.
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Scene 7 summary

  • Months later; it is mid-September and Blanche's birthday.
  • Stanley reveals Blanche's past to Stella.
  • Blanche notices that there is a change in the atmosphere.
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Scene 8 summary

  • Stanley, Stella and Blanche celebrate her birthday with a meal; Mitch hadn't arrived.
  • Stanley becomes violent again, before presenting Blanche with a supposed birthday gift (a bus ticket back home).
  • Stella complains at his cruelty, but then goes into labour.
  • Stanley takes her to hospital.
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Scene 9 summary

  • Both Blanche and Mitch have been drinking.
  • Mitch visits Blanche and tells her he knows about her past.
  • Blanche tries to explain but he dismisses her and attempts to have sex with her.
  • She shouts "fire!" and he leaves.
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Scene 10 summary

  • Blanche is in a drunken state; her mental instability is shown through her actions.
  • Stanley returns home from the hospital and celebrates the birth of his child.
  • Stanley uncovers Blanche's true nature and proceeds to **** her.
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Scene 11 summary

  • Stella packs Blanche's suitcase; she doesn't believe the story of the ****.
  • Blanche dresses in preparation for what she thinks is a trip with an admirer.
  • The Doctor and the matron arrive.
  • Blanche is taken away.
  • It is hinted at that Stanley has sex with Stella in an attempt to comfort her.
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Theme: Illusion vs reality

  • This theme reinforces the idea of escapism; Blanche refuses to accept the hand fate has dealt her.
  • Stanley is a practical realist, firmly rooted in the present and so he detests her fabrications.
  • Antagonistic relationship between Blanche + Stanley shows the struggle between appearances and reality.
  • Blanche retreats into her private fantasies to partially shield herself from the harshness of reality.
  • Blanche adapts the exterior world to fit her delusions; objective reality isn't an antidote to her fantasy world.
  • In both the physical and the psychological realms, the boundary between fantasy and reality is permeable.
  • Blanche’s final, deluded happiness suggests that, to some extent, fantasy is a vital force at play in every individual’s experience, despite reality’s inevitable triumph.
  • Fantasy is her primary means of self-defence against external threats and internal demons.
  • She is a quixotic figure, seeing the world not as it is but as it ought to be; contrasts with Stanley's steadfast realism.
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Theme: Desire

  • Central theme leads to Blanche's destruction: "they told me to take a streetcar named desire, then transfer to one called Cemetries".
  • The streetcar is an undefined force of fate; the driving force being sexual desire.
  • Williams infers that to be driven along by desire is self-destructive yet the victims of over-powering passion are carried along helplessly.
  • Physical desire is at the root of Stanley + Stella's relationship; Stella is attracted to Stanley's sexual prowess whereas Stanley uses sex as a tool to assert his dominance/masculinity.
  • Blanche's pursuit of her sexual desires leads to her eviction from Belle Reve, her ostracism from Laurel, and, at the end of the play, her expulsion from society at large.
  • Her husband’s suicide results from her disapproval of his homosexuality. The message is that indulging one’s desire in the form of unrestrained promiscuity leads to forced departures and unwanted ends.
  • Her fall into madness can be read as the ending brought about by her dual flaws—her inability to act appropriately on her desire and her desperate fear of human mortality.
  • Sex and death are intricately and fatally linked in Blanche’s experiences as well as most of the other characters.
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Theme: Male dominance and female submission

  • Both Blanche and Stella see male companions as their only means to achieve happiness, and they depend on men for both their sustenance and their self-image. 
  • Dominance and sex is linked for Stanley e.g he establishes dominance over Stella and Blanche via sex.
  • Stanley asserts his masculinity physically as well as psychologically; Williams uses Blanche’s and Stella’s dependence on men and the attitude of males to expose and critique the treatment of women during the transition from the old to the new South.
  •  Blanche does not realize that her dependence on men will lead to her downfall rather than her salvation. By relying on men, Blanche puts her fate in the hands of others.
  • Blanche reclaims her sexuality yet is condemned for it, while Stanley’s sexual prowess is shown through the phrase “male bird amongst hens” yet due to the fact he is male, there are no repercussions for him – it’s encouraged as an aspect of masculinity.
  • In fact, he goes to the extent of ****** Blanche, yet there are still no repercussions for him – shows the patriarchal society they lived in, where males can forcefully destroy a female’s sexuality.
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THEME: Old vs New South

  • Stanley represents the American dream, associated with the world of stark reality, rooted in the present whereas Blanche embodies the image and ideals of the old South, firmly rooted in the past. 
  • New Orleans is a diverse and modern society in the New South where Stanley thrives and Blanche, quite literally, loses her mind.
  • Williams’ image of Stanley is far from wholly positive -- the character possesses an inherent barbarism made evident by his eventual physical and sexual assault on Blanche. This ferocity is Williams’ commentary on the direction society was headed.
  • Gentility and decorum would no longer be central to the new society; instead, survival and endurance would be the means to getting ahead (animalistic).
  • Blanche begins to realize she’s a relic; all elements of the Old South image that would have formerly given her social standing are irrelevant now.
  • Blanche and Stella are both forced to depend on men and marriage for their survival, while Stanley's insistence that he be recognized as the undisputed master of the house reflects the mentality of men during the Old to New South transition. 
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Character: Blanche Dubois


  • Initially tries to portray an image or purity and innocence but as the play progresses, her true colours are revealed ("white suit" in scene 1 to "scarlet satin robe" in scene 9 to a "soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown” (scene 10).
  • Her outfit reflects mental breakdown, the fact that her lack of purity has been revealed, foreshadows the impending sexual assault.
  • Her last outfit is an attempt to revert to her state of living in her own world; also, religion is alluded to for what seems to be the first time in the play: "Della Robbia blue jacket".
  • “daintily dressed”, “delicate beauty” – shows the fragility of her mental state, links to “moth” simile and the fact that it’s a “paper lantern” diminishing the light – it’s always been weak and at risk of being torn.
  • Her appearance is incongruous to this setting” – highlights class difference and superiority, shows that she doesn’t belong, foreshadows the upcoming tension and clashing with Stanley, Stella and Mitch.
  • Manipulates her appearance to hide her fading beauty; reveals her inability to accept reality as she retreats to her comfort of a fantasy world.
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Character: Blanche Dubois


  • Fragile: "uncertain matter", "I was never hard enough", like a "moth".
  • Links to how she has to “put on […] the colours of butterfly wings” to be attractive to men – shows her artificiality/superficiality.
  • Moth comparison is ironic as they're attracted to light and she isn't (highlights how deceiving she is): Stella says "she was always- flighty!".
  • Vanity/vs insecurity- "I was fishing for compliments", “’I still have that awful vanity about my looks even now that [they] are slipping!’
  • Some may feel she is being vain and narcissistic, others may feel sympathy for her after the reveal of her promiscuity – she depended on men yet believed that “men lose interest quickly”.
  • Artificial- "carefully replaces the bottle”, “I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth.” – she is stuck in her own version of reality, links to the theme of illusion.
  • Her name means white woods- connotes purity + nature (ironic due to artifciality).
  • Desire for youth- "I'm fading now!" fear of growing old.
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Character: Blanche Dubois

  • Her feelings of superiority are exemplified by her racist attitude: "couldn't we get a coloured girl to do it?" "polack".
  • Classicm: "what are you doing in a place like this?", she is aware of social distinctions.
  • If Stanley if representative of the lower class on immigrant America, the she refers to them as “brutes”, “animals” etc.
  • Mentally unstable: foreshadowed in scene 1: “I can’t be alone!" – the monosyllabic words are simple and portrays the lack of complex thought her brain can produce.
  • Mental instability shown throughout by her tendency to be frightened by simple things like loud noises: “[A cat screeches near the window. Blanche springs up.]”
  • Sexual desire: “scarlet satin robe” shows how she is a sinful, sexually promiscuous woman.
  • Flirts with young men right before going on a date – hints at nymphomaniac tendencies, shows recklessness and her urge to seek pleasure, however destructive.
  • Tragic character- hubris: the downfall of a great person by their pride or arrogance.
  • Ultimately, her moral weakness and vanities fall away from her during departure, achieving the dignity of a tragic heroine.
  • Hamartia: a tragic flaw (fixation with fantasy, sexual desire).
  • Peripeteia; reversal of fortune.
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Stanley Kowalski


  • “coloured shirts […] as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colours” – shows his intense, base masculinity.
  • “blue denim work clothes” – highlights how he is of a lower class compared to Blanche.
  • Dominant, masculine sexuality: "strongly, compactly built", “power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens” and "gaudy seed bearer".
  • Animalistic semantic field: "catch" in scene 1, Blanche's description in S4 “bestial”, "bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle!” “sub-human".


  • Class-conscious like Blanche: "“I was common as dirt” – embarrassed/resentful of class.
  • Threatened by/jealous of Blanche for trying to revert Stella into an upper-class type person again, and influence her, thus he deals with this loss of control via sexual dominance.
  • Male dominance (degrades women) "baby doll" "I am the king around here" (alpha male).
  • Victim of masculine ideology? product of his environment?
  • Sexual magnetism/dominance: "guady seed bearer", expresses hostility towards Blanche via the **** (his way of asserting and claiming control).  
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Stella Kowalski


  • Love/sexual attraction supercedes class difference, doesnt care about class unlike Blanche: “of a background obviously quite different from her husband’s”.
  • “a gentle young woman”, “precious lamb”: contrasts Stanley’s aggressive animalistic semantic field and Blanche’s comparisons to bird and freedom.
  • Objectification and infantalisation: "baby doll" "blessed baby" "messy child"
  • "Cherub in choir"- connotes innocence/angelic characteristics, contrasts to sinfully promiscious Blanche.


  • Reserved nature: "beautiful self-control"- contrasts to Blanche's outgoing nature.
  • Facetious, hints at an independence of mind: "You never did give me a chance to say anything. So I just got in the habit of being quiet around you.”
  • Fairly passive character in contrast to Blanche and Stanley – the link/the intermediary that brings them together.
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Character: Stella Kowalski

  • Independence: "this is my house and I’ll talk as much as I want to!” “you’d better give me some money”
  • Dependency: lack of understanding of the Napoleonic Code – “my head is swimming!" and “Stanley doesn’t give me a regular allowance, he likes to pay bills himself”
  • Submission; accepting of her role as housewife, represent American society accepting the patriarchal society they lived in: Blanche says "I won't have you cleaning up for him!" and Stella replies "Then who's going to do it?"
  • She became part of Stanley’s life, remembering less and less of her old life, accepting Stanley’s standards; reading a “book of coloured comics” is symptomatic of this.
  • Cares for her family: "Stella you're crying" when she finds out Belle Reve was lost and "don't let them hurt her" when Blanche is taken away.
  • Then again, she ends up choosing Stanley over Blanche – does she place sexual attraction and romantic love above sisterly affection and familial love?
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Character: Mitch


  • Akward and clumsy: “[glancing back at Blanche and coughing a little shyly.]” and moves in "awkward imitation like a dancing bear".


  • Sensitivity- Blanche: “I thought he had a sort of sensitive look.” and “I gotta sick mother", makes him seem superior to the others in Blanche's eyes.
  • His awkward courtesy and embarrassment show a consciousness of manners seldom seen in that raffish section of New Orleans.
  • His responses to pity, sorrow, loneliness, are all conditioned by the tutoring of his mother. Although he can recognise the results of emotion in people he can never truly understand its cause. So when he was finally faced with the bawdy truth of reality his response was conditional, he ran to avoid confusion.
  • Mitch will always be the big boy because he failed his test for manliness. In the environment of the New Orleans slums, Mitch's lack of manliness will eventually destroy him.
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Blanche and Stanley:

  • Potentially feels threatened by her, doesn’t like Blanche’s influence on Stella – “it’s gonna be all right after she goes”.
  • Feels as though sexual domination is the way to gain control over Blanche (****).
  • He is suspicious of her: “if you weren’t my wife’s sister, I’d get idea about you”, in scene ten: “not once did you pull the wool over this boy’s eyes!”.
  • Sexual tension: "may I have a drag on your cig?" "yes I was flirting with your husband Stella!"
  • Incompatibility + clashing personalities in S1 and almost immediate resentment: "I was never a good English student".
  • Sexual domination is his way of gaining control + punishing her: "we've had this date since the beginning" (pre-meditated), and "let's have some rough house"
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Blanche and Stella:

  • Mother/look after each other- Blanche: “baby, my baby sister” "messy child", patronises her.
  • Stella ends up mothering Blanche at the end – “Stella is packing Blanche’s things”.
  • Stella “talks slowly and emphatically” and Blanche says, “I don’t understand you” – shows how they don’t understand each other’s viewpoint and shows how they’re contrasting personalities.
  • Ultimately, Stella chooses Stanley over Blanche (dependant upon him).

Stella and Stanley:

  • Control: "I am the King around here!" and "since when do you give me orders?”
  • Domestic abuse- “[There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out.]” – the acute incident in the cycle of domestic abuse.
  • "falls on his knees and presses his face to her belly" loving contrition; act of submission by going to a lower level than Stella – actual love and regret or manipulation?
  • Sexuality; seems to be the main reason Stella is with him – the overpowering physical passion.
  • One could argue that she betrayed Blanche to continue her sex life with Stanley.
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  • Does she like the violence and degradation? “He smashed all the light-bulbs with the heel of my slipper!” “I was – sort of – thrilled by it”.
  • Supports Helene Deutsch’s view that victims of abuse were masochists who provoked their abuses as they found pleasure in the pain.
  • Victim of abuse: trapped in the cycle of abuse– tension building, acute incident, loving contrition (“I’m not in anything I want to get out of” – Stockholm syndrome-like mentality).
  • Loyalty: defends Stanley's abuse "he was as good as a lamb when I came back".
  • Chooses Stanley over Blanche: "I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley”, uses 'her' for Blanche and calls the **** a 'story', suggesting it's from her imagination.
  • Stella chooses Stanley at the end – shows he doesn’t have any consequences for his actions.

Blanche and Mitch:

  • "That one seems – superior to the others”, “a natural gentleman" (she feels superior to him).
  • She creates a make-believe world for Mitch, where she is a demure, old-fashioned girl.
  • She takes advantage of his lack of knowledge – he is her victim. 
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  • See's him as her salvation: "Marry me, Mitch!", he can provide the security of a marriage which can end her sexual promiscuity.
  • At the end, he feels betrayed, attempts to **** her it seems: "I’ve never had a real good look at you” and “you’re not clean enough to bring in a house with my mother”.

Stanley and Mitch:

  • Stanley needs Mitch’s admiration and respect as he's unwilling to relinquish his hold on him as jealousy plays a part in Stanley's determination to expose Blanche and so regain his domination of Mitch.
  • “He acts like an animal.” vs “You’re a natural gentleman.” (contrast)
  • “My clothes’re stickin’ to me. Do you mind if I make myself comfortable? [He starts to remove his shirt.]” vs “I better leave it on […] I am ashamed of the way I perspire.” (contrast)
  • Both tear the paper lantern, Mitch "tears" and Stanley "seizes", shows how Stanley is more masculine and powerful.
  • Mitch is like Stanley’s shadow; what he fails at, Stanley succeeds in after.
  • Both attempt to rate Blanche; Mitch fails, Stanley suceeds.
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  • Chinese paper lantern hides the naked light bulb, dimming the light; symbolises the façade she puts on to prevent people seeing her true self – her age and her fading beauty (“I want to deceive him”)
  • "paper” indicates the fragility of her façade. 
  • “[He tears the paper lantern off the light-bulb. She utter a frightened gasp.]” – she is genuinely terrified of her true self being revealed.
  • “I don’t want realism. [I want] magic!” “I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be the truth.” – trapped in her fantasy world where everything is according to her rules.
  • Bright light = youthful sexual innocence vs dim light = sexual maturity and disillusionment.


  • “I take hot baths for my nerves”- her sexual experiences and her experiences with death have led her to become a hysterical woman.
  • She attempts to cleanse herself of guilt for her husband’s suicide.
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  • She attempts to cleanse herself of guilt for her husband’s suicide and/or she is trying to cleanse herself of her promiscuous past (ritual cleansing).
  • Bathing continues throughout the whole play – they’re never-ending, highlighting the redundancy of her constant bathing – she can never forget her past.
  • She wants to be “buried in a clean white sack” at sea – her obsession with cleanliness links to death.
  • Stanley also turns to water to undo a misdeed when he showers after beating Stella: The shower serves to soothe his violent temper; afterwards he leaves the bathroom feeling remorseful and calls out longingly for his wife.


  • Blanche and Stanley drink – for S, it’s social (done at poker parties and to celebrate the birth of his child) and for Blanche, it’s anti-social (shown by how she tries to hide it).
  • For Stanley, leads to domestic violence but he is able to rebound from his drunken escapades.
  • For Blanche, it supplements her departure from reality, each time contributing to her complete descent into madness at the end. 
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Varsouviana polka:

  • Calls up and accompanies Blanche’s guilty memories of her husband.
  • Silenced by the sound of a revolver shot, only heard by Blanche (Mitch: “what music?”), represents Blanche's loss of innocence.
  • Shows her mental decline – when she hears it Blanche panics and loses her grip on reality: "It's only a paper moon".
  • Williams ironically juxtaposes Blanche’s fantastical understanding of herself with Stanley’s description of Blanche’s real nature.
  • “it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me” – shows how Blanche believe lying is the best approach to life.


  • Symbolises her journey from Desire to Cemeteries – from sexual promiscuity to the ‘death’ of her mind/sexuality.
  • The two symbols of America (old and decadent vs egalitarian and vibrant)
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Dramatic techniques and context

Visual and Sound Effects:

  • Varsouviana Polka used when Blanche feels guilty and to represent her mental decline.
  • Blue piano stands for the callous vitality of New Orleans.
  • Scene 10: The night is filled with inhuman voices like cries in a jungle.]” – evokes tension and fear in the audience, represents Blanche’s state of mind.


  • Williams' father abused his mother- normalisation of abuse (links to domestic abuse).
  • In New Orleans, he discovered his sexuality and became a practising homosexual (links to Blanche's husband Alan Grey).
  • Urge to seek pleasure, however destructive – shown in Blanche (took drugs).
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