A Streetcar Named Desire | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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Course Hero. "A Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide." October 13, 2016. Accessed April 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Streetcar-Named-Desire/.

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Course Hero, "A Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide," October 13, 2016, accessed April 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Streetcar-Named-Desire/.

A Streetcar Named Desire | Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

In the Kowalski apartment, Stella tells Stanley to treat Blanche nicely because she's upset about losing Belle Reve. She asks him not to tell Blanche about her pregnancy. Blanche is in the bathroom, taking a bath, and can be heard singing. Stella says she and Blanche are going out for dinner to get out of the way of Stanley's poker game with his friends.

Curious about Belle Reve, Stanley wants to see a bill of sale. Stella says Belle Reve was not sold but lost. Stanley then explains the Napoleonic code, which states that whatever belongs to the wife belongs to the husband and vice versa, so he has a right to know what really happened. Stanley suspects Blanche of swindling him and Stella out of the property. He searches Blanche's trunks, finding clothing, furs, and jewelry. He claims Blanche must have used the money from the property's sale to buy them. Stella says, "You have no idea how stupid and horrid you're being!" Upset, Stella goes out on the porch.

Blanche comes in from the bathroom and gets dressed. She acts flirtatiously with Stanley, which annoys him. She fishes for compliments, but he resists, saying only that she looks "all right." He asks how she got all the furs and jewelry. Blanche continues to be flirtatious, but Stanley tells her to drop it. Concerned about Blanche, Stella enters. Blanche asks her to get a lemon soft drink at a drugstore. Stella leaves. Blanche then agrees to "answer all questions." She opens a tin box, which holds her business documents and some love letters. Stanley grabs the letters, which makes Blanche frantic. She yells, "The touch of your hands insults them!" and snatches the letters from Stanley. Baffled, Stanley wonders what is so important about the letters. Blanche says they contain poems from her husband.

Flipping through her business papers, Blanche explains how her ancestors gradually lost Belle Reve "piece by piece" in order to fulfill their "epic" sexual desires. She then lets Stanley have the papers to do with as he chooses. Stanley says he'll have a lawyer look them over and explains he's taking a special interest in his wife's affairs because she's pregnant. Surprised and happy for her sister, Blanche greets Stella, who has just come back from the drugstore. Blanche makes light of the way Stanley treated her about the Belle Reve documents. The sisters leave for the restaurant.

Analysis

In Scene 2 the power struggle between Stanley and Blanche reflects several of the play's themes.

For example, Williams further develops the theme of truth versus illusion. Stanley is shown as a person who can be brutally honest. He wants to get to the truth about Belle Reve, even if it means upsetting Blanche. He accuses her of using the money from the property's sale to buy clothing, furs, and jewelry. At first Blanche tries to flirt with Stanley to distract him from his goal. Her flirtation is itself a form of illusion ("After all a woman's charm is fifty per cent illusion."). She has become accustomed to using this strategy as a way to control men. However she realizes this method won't work with Stanley, and she is forced to show Stanley her business papers telling him that "when a thing is important, I tell the truth."

The movement from desire to destruction and death is represented by the loss of Belle Reve. Blanche claims her forefathers gradually lost the estate through their "epic fornications"—somehow the fulfillment of her ancestors' sexual desires led to the destruction of Belle Reve. It disappeared "piece by piece." All that was left for Blanche and Stella was "the house itself and about twenty acres of ground, including a graveyard."

The letters from Blanche's husband also symbolize the link between desire, destruction, and death. The letters contain poems that mean a great deal to Blanche—much more than the Belle Reve documents. They are a reminder of love lost through death.

In contrast to Blanche's yearning, Stanley's desire in this scene is about his own power. He wants to discover whether he can profit financially from the sale of Belle Reve. Appropriately Scene 2 is riddled with examples of conflicts about social class, which further highlight the power struggle between Blanche and Stanley. Stanley says, "The Kowalskis and the DuBois have different notions," suggesting that the refined Southern upper class and the coarse working class have very different views of the world. Later Blanche becomes frantic when Stanley handles her love letters because she views him as a crude person whose touch will soil them. Blanche exclaims, "Now that you've touched them I'll burn them!" She clearly thinks he is lowly, destructive, and worthy of contempt.

Stanley uses the Napoleonic code as an excuse to invade Blanche's private belongings and interrogate her about Belle Reve. Like an emperor Stanley sees himself as the ruler of his house and whoever is visiting there. This viewpoint is supported by many of Stanley's lines. For example, Stanley tells his wife, "Since when do you give me orders?" and seems to resent that she and Blanche are going out for the evening during his poker game.

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