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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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THE PLAY

THE PLOT - SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Imagine a delicate white moth flitting about a heap of garbage in a cinder lot. That's approximately the feeling created by the sight of Blanche DuBois arriving in Elysian Fields to visit her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. Blanche not only looks out of place, she acts that way, too. Refinement and good breeding show in all she says and does, at least until her mask is stripped away bit by bit.

Blanche teaches high school English in Laurel, Mississippi. She needs a place to stay while recovering from a nervous breakdown. Stella agrees to accommodate Blanche, at least for a while, but she cautions Blanche that the apartment is tiny and that Stanley isn't the sort of man Blanche may be used to. He's rough and undignified. But Stella adores him despite his crude manner.

Soon after arriving, Blanche reveals that Belle Reve, the old family plantation in Laurel, has been lost to creditors. Blanche blames her sister for leaving home years ago while she was forced to stay on and watch all the residents of Belle Reve die off one by one.

The loss of Belle Reve troubles Stanley. He distrusts Blanche and accuses her of having sold the plantation to buy furs and jewels. When Blanche denies wrongdoing, Stanley ransacks her belongings looking for a bill of sale. He tears open a packet of letters and poems written by Blanche's husband, who committed suicide years ago. Stella tries unsuccessfully to protect her fragile sister from Stanley's fury.


That night Blanche and Stella go to the movies while Stanley and his friends play poker and drink. When they return, Blanche is introduced to Mitch, whose courteous manner sets him apart from Stanley's other friends. She charms Mitch easily and begins to flirt with him. Upset that the poker game has been interrupted, Stanley explodes in a drunken rage. He hurls a radio out the window and he strikes Stella. Spurred by Stanley's assault on his pregnant wife, his friends drag him into the shower. Meanwhile, Stella and Blanche escape upstairs to a friend's apartment.

Dripping wet, Stanley emerges into the street. Like an animal crying for his mate, he keeps calling Stella until she comes down and allows herself to be carried off to bed. Later Mitch returns and apologizes to Blanche for Stanley's coarse behavior.

Blanche is disgusted by Stanley's barbarity and would like to leave, but she has nowhere else to go. She invents a story about a rich friend named Shep Huntleigh who might give her refuge. She tries to persuade Stella to flee with her. However, Stella rebuffs Blanche and pledges love for Stanley regardless of how brutally he treats her.

Mitch, a lonesome man in search of a wife, begins to date Blanche. But Stanley has acquired some information about her that would probably destroy the relationship. Stanley has learned that Blanche was an infamous whore back in Laurel. Blanche denies it, but soon after, when Blanche flirts with a newsboy, you realize that Stanley's assertion may be true.

Mitch talks of marriage. Blanche discloses the tragic story of her earlier marriage to Allan, who turned out to be a homosexual. When Blanche rejected him, Allan took his own life. Now Blanche can't erase from her mind the image of his bloody corpse or the sound of the fatal gunshot. Profoundly moved, Mitch embraces Blanche.

Stanley, meanwhile, has learned that Blanche hasn't taken a leave from her teaching job. Rather, she has been fired because she seduced one of her students. In addition, she was told to leave Laurel because night after night she entertained soldiers from a nearby army base.

Stanley tells Mitch about Blanche's past. As Stella prepares a birthday party for her sister, Stanley tells her, too. Shocked, Stella pleads with Stanley to be gentle with Blanche. But Stanley presents Blanche with a cruel birthday present-a one-way bus ticket back to Laurel. Stella rebukes Stanley for his heartlessness, but he reminds her that their marriage had liberated her from a life of phony gentility. Suddenly Stella feels labor pains and Stanley rushes her to the hospital.

That evening Mitch visits Blanche. He is highly agitated and tells her what Stanley has said. She pleads for understanding by confessing that she had been intimate with men in order to fill her emptiness after Allan's suicide. Her tale arouses Mitch. He wants the sex that she's dispensed to others. He starts to assault her, but she repels him by shouting "Fire!" out the window.

Late that night Stanley returns to find Blanche dressed in fine traveling clothes. She informs Stanley that Shep Huntleigh has invited her on a cruise and that Mitch had apologized for not coming to her birthday party. Stanley bluntly calls her a liar. He wants to prove that he hasn't been fooled by her lies. He approaches her seductively. She tries to stop him with a bottle, but too weak to resist, she collapses at his feet. Stanley picks her up, then carries her off to be raped.

Weeks later Stella is packing Blanche's belongings. Blanche thinks that she's going to the country for a rest, but in truth, Blanche is being committed to a mental hospital. Stella doesn't know if she's doing the right thing. In order to preserve her marriage, however, Stella has decided to dismiss the story of the rape as just another of Blanche's fictions.

While dressing, Blanche talks of cruises and romantic adventures with Shep Huntleigh. Shortly, Stella leads Blanche out to meet the doctor and nurse from the hospital. Blanche balks at the sight of them. The nurse begins to overpower her with a straitjacket. But the doctor intervenes. He talks kindly to Blanche, as though he is the gentleman caller she's been expecting. Calmed by the doctor's gentleness, Blanche takes his arm and walks to the waiting ambulance.

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