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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

SCENE FIVE

To keep her hope alive, or at least to keep up the pretense of hope, Blanche composes a letter to Shep Huntleigh, informing him that she intends to make room in her crowded social life to visit him in Dallas.

NOTE:

Regardless of whether Shep is imaginary or real, to Blanche he represents a chance to be rescued from her plight. He's a savior, a symbol of a vanishing breed-the gallant, romantic, and wealthy Southern gentleman. More than likely, such a man is Blanche's mirage. Earlier you heard her rage against the real Southern gentlemen she knew.

While Blanche reads a piece of the letter to Stella, you hear angry shouts and curses from upstairs. Steve and Eunice are embroiled in one of their periodic arguments. Later they make up and, like Stella and Stanley after the poker game, clasp each other fiercely. Have you noticed the characters' fluctuating emotions? Rapidly, their joy may turn to anger or anger to joy. They hit emotional peaks and valleys in swift succession. Could these fluctuations signify the characters' instability? Or do they suggest, as some critics have noted, the rhythms of sexual passion?


Some time after, Stanley startles Blanche by mentioning a certain man named Shaw from Laurel. Shaw claims to have met a woman named Blanche at Laurel's Hotel Flamingo, a seedy place frequented by the town's lowlife. Stanley stops short of calling Blanche a whore, but he strongly implies that Blanche is something other than an English teacher. Blanche denies it, of course, but nervousness gives her away.

While Blanche might like Stella as a confidante, someone to whom she can unburden herself, it's not a role Stella savors. However, Blanche asks Stella for advice about Mitch, soon to arrive for another evening out. Like a young girl just starting to date, Blanche asks how freely she can grant sexual favors and still retain her beau's respect. For a teenager the question is a puzzlement. For a grown woman, whose career includes a spell as town whore, the problem is both comic and tragic, but important nevertheless.

NOTE:

The further you explore the play, the more psychological turns and byways you'll discover. By now the play has turned almost into a psychological drama, recalling works by Chekhov, the Russian playwright, who let characters unveil their mental processes without help from a narrator or from the remarks of other characters. You understand the inner being of characters almost solely from the words they say. In his later years Tennessee Williams often acknowledged Chekhov's influence on his work.

Soon after Stella and Stanley leave for the evening, a boy of about high school age comes to collect for the newspaper. Blanche makes advances. She flirts with him, and finally, to the boy's astonishment, plants a kiss on his mouth. Afterwards she mutters, "It would be nice to keep you, but I've got to be good-and keep my hands off children." Blanche says the words as though she's recalling her past, suggesting perhaps that she's had encounters with children before.

Why does she kiss the young man? Is she a sexual deviant? Does the encounter make her feel young? Is she testing her seductive powers? Later, after you learn more about Blanche's past, you might develop additional theories. Similarly, you might ponder the boy's response. Was he stunned with surprise? Did he submit out of courtesy?

Blanche's brush with the boy has buoyed her morale. Moments later, Mitch arrives bearing a bouquet of roses. Coquettishly she presses the flowers to her lips and calls Mitch her "Rosenkavalier."

NOTE:

The central moment in the Richard Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier is the presentation of a silver rose to a beautiful young woman. The allusion certainly goes way over Mitch's head, but he catches the spirit of Blanche's words and smiles appreciatively.

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