A Streetcar Named Desire | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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A Streetcar Named Desire | Scene 11 | Summary

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Summary

Stanley, Mitch, Steve, and Pablo play poker in the kitchen. Eunice enters. Stanley brags about his exploits in the army during the war. Mitch seems upset as he tries to accuse Stanley of bragging but can't get the words out. Eunice meets Stella in the bedroom. Blanche is taking a bath. Stella has told Blanche that she made arrangements for Blanche "to rest in the country" and Blanche has "got it mixed in her mind with Shep Huntleigh." However, in reality, Stella has made arrangements for Blanche to be taken to a state mental institution. Blanche opens the bathroom door slightly and tells Stella to prepare her wardrobe for the day. After Blanche closes the door, Stella says she couldn't believe Blanche's story and continue to live with her husband. Eunice replies that life has to go on. Blanche comes out of the bathroom, wearing a satin robe. At the poker table Mitch seems depressed. In the bedroom the sound of Stanley's voice startles Blanche, and she wonders what is going on. Eunice and Stella try to calm Blanche, which makes Blanche more suspicious. Stella says that Blanche is going on a vacation. Anxious, Blanche wants Stella to help her dress and get out of the Kowalski apartment. Blanche rambles on about dying from eating an unwashed grape and being buried at sea.

A Doctor and Matron approach the door to the apartment; the Doctor rings the doorbell. Eunice answers the door, returns to the bedroom, and says that Blanche has a caller. Blanche wonders if it is Shep. Eunice pretends it is. Blanche walks fearfully by the men playing poker. Stella and Eunice follow her. However, when Blanche goes on the porch, she tells the Doctor that he is not the gentleman she expected. Blanche goes back in the kitchen and stops by the door. On the porch Stella closes her eyes in torment as Eunice comforts her. As Blanche moves toward the bedroom, Stanley gets up to block her way and asks if she forgot something. Blanche says she has and moves past Stanley into the bedroom.

Stella enters the kitchen. The Matron walks into the bedroom, and Stanley tells her that Blanche forgot something. Blanche says she wants to be left alone. Stanley asks if Blanche wants the paper lantern and tears it off the light bulb. Blanche screams and tries to get past the Matron. Stella runs out to the porch and into Eunice's embrace. Distraught, Stella wonders what she has done to her sister. Eunice says, "You done the right thing, the only thing you could do."

Meanwhile Mitch heads toward the bedroom but is blocked by Stanley. Mitch takes a punch at Stanley but misses and "collapses at the table, sobbing." The Matron grabs Blanche, who wildly tries to scratch her. Blanche cries out and drops to her knees. The Matron asks the Doctor if they should put a straightjacket on Blanche. He says, "Not unless necessary." The Doctor then approaches Blanche and politely addresses her as Miss DuBois. Blanche looks up at him in a pleading way. The Doctor gently draws up Blanche, and she takes his arm. As he leads her into the kitchen, Blanche says, "Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." The Doctor leads Blanche past the men at the poker table, as if he is guiding a blind woman. When the Doctor and Blanche go out on the porch, Stella cries her sister's name. Blanche continues on without turning followed by the Doctor and the Matron. Crying, Stella takes her baby from Eunice. Stanley goes on the porch, kneels by his wife, and soothes her as she keeps sobbing.

Analysis

In Scene 11 Williams brings the theme of truth versus illusion to its completion for Blanche. Her rape by Stanley has pushed her over the edge. She now has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what isn't. For example, she believes the person coming to take her away is Shep. In reality the person is a doctor from a state mental hospital. Blanche bizarrely imagines dying at sea from eating an unwashed grape and believes this will really happen to her. Stella and Eunice pretend that Blanche is going on a vacation, and Blanche believes them. However Blanche has not totally lost her grasp on reality. Because of this she realizes the Doctor is not really Shep and becomes frightened, not knowing what is happening to her. In the end Blanche slips into her illusions, believing the Doctor is a gentleman escorting her to some pleasant place.

The desires of all four major characters in the play have led to destruction in various ways. Mitch's desire to marry Blanche has been destroyed by Stanley. As a result Mitch is a bitter, defeated man who is angry with Stanley but is unable to take effective action against him. When Mitch goes to help Blanche, Stanley stops him. Mitch can't even punch Stanley. When he tries, Mitch misses and collapses in tears.

Stella becomes a tormented woman, torn between her desire to be with her husband and to take care of her sister. Stella succumbs to Stanley's will and arranges for Blanche to be taken to a state mental hospital. However Stella fears Blanche will be mistreated there. Stella probably also suspects Blanche told the truth about being raped by Stanley. However she can't allow herself to believe this and live with her husband. Stella's life is now based on the illusion that her husband couldn't have raped her sister.

Blanche's desire to escape the harshness of life and death has led her further away from reality and into insanity. Blanche still wants to get out of the Kowalski apartment, viewing her situation there as a trap. Indeed Blanche has become trapped, but it is a trap of her own making. Stanley has provided the final impetus to spring the trap. However, holding on to old Southern traditions as a coping mechanism, Blanche has been on a journey toward entrapment since the death of her husband. Her sexual experiences with soldiers at the camp, men at the Hotel Flamingo, and a student are all attempts to use desire to flee death. Finally Blanche's flight takes her on a streetcar named Desire to her sister's house, where the trap with Stanley's help ensnares her.

For Stanley his desire has been achieved, but only through his reliance on destruction to assert his dominance. Stanley wants to maintain his family structure with him as a type of king ruling his subject, namely his wife. For a time Blanche seems to threaten this structure. But his rape of Blanche has pushed her into insanity. As a result Stanley can have Stella arrange to take Blanche away and resume his regular lifestyle, but only by proving he is a brute, just as Blanche said.

The theme of dependence on men also permeates Scene 11. At the beginning of this scene, Stanley and his friends play poker. The male-dominated order has been restored and continues on. Because of this Stella has become completely submissive to her husband's desires. She places Blanche in a state mental hospital, even though she fears Blanche might be mistreated there. For her part Blanche continues to rely on men to rescue her. She even imagines the Doctor to be a kindly gentleman who will help her. As the Doctor leads her away, Williams describes Blanche as a blind woman, suggesting how she has fallen deeper into the world of illusions by becoming insane.

After Blanche leaves, Stanley comes to soothe Stella, who is cradling her baby. Stella has also become trapped even further, a woman with the responsibility of a child who feels compelled to depend on her husband, even though she suspects he is a rapist. Stella's sobbing at the end perhaps is not only for Blanche but also for herself, as she heeds her husband's soothing physicality and falls back into her relationship with him.

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