A Streetcar Named Desire | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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A Streetcar Named Desire | Scene 3 | Summary



In the kitchen of the Kowalski apartment, Stanley plays poker with his friends, Mitch, Steve, and Pablo. Because he is losing, Stanley is ill-tempered. Mitch expresses concern for his sick mother, with whom he lives. Stanley loses patience with Mitch, telling him to go home. Stella and Blanche arrive and are surprised to see the men still playing poker. Stella asks Stanley to call it quits, but he wants to keep playing.

In the bedroom Blanche meets Mitch coming out of the bathroom. After he returns to the game, Blanche tells Stella that Mitch seems "superior" to the other men. Stella agrees and says Mitch is single. Stanley tells the sisters to stop talking. Blanche turns on the radio, which plays rumba music, and Stanley orders her to turn it off. When she doesn't Stanley angrily goes into the bedroom, turns off the radio, and then stalks back to the poker table.

Mitch leaves the game and goes into the bedroom. He shows Blanche his silver cigarette case with a poetry inscription. Blanche recognizes the verse, which was written by one of her favorite poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A girl, who is now dead, gave the case to Mitch. Blanche and Mitch talk about how sorrow makes people sincere. She asks Mitch to place a paper lantern over a bare light bulb to soften its glare, which he does.

Blanche turns on the radio, causing Stanley to storm into the bedroom and throw the radio out the window. Stella yells at Stanley, calling him an "animal thing." Stella backs out of sight, and Stanley goes after her. The sound of a blow is heard. Steve and Pablo grab Stanley, who is in an uncontrolled fury. Stella says, "I want to go away!" Blanche grabs some of her sister's clothes and leads Stella out of the apartment and up to Eunice's second-floor apartment. Steve and Pablo take Stanley into the bathroom and put him under the shower. Mitch, Steve, and Pablo leave.

Stanley comes out of the bathroom, dripping wet. He yells for Stella and breaks into sobs. He heads outside and repeatedly shouts Stella's name at the second-floor apartment. Eunice says that Stella isn't coming down, and tells him, "You can't beat on a woman an' then call 'er back!" Stanley shouts Stella's name again. Then Stella comes down the stairs and stares at her husband, her eyes wet with tears. Stanley kneels before Stella and "presses his face to her belly." She tenderly raises him up. Stanley lifts up Stella and carries her into their apartment to make love. Blanche comes down the stairs, fearfully looking for her sister. Mitch approaches and confirms that Stella went back to her husband. The violence has upset Blanche. Mitch offers her a cigarette. Blanche thanks him for being so kind.


In Scene 3 Stanley's expression of his desires is blatant, forceful, and brutally honest. He wants to keep playing poker no matter how late it is. He demands that the radio be turned off and throws it out the window after Blanche turns it back on. When Stella insults Stanley, he goes into a rage and hits her. However his desires can turn on a dime. After he has cooled off, Stanley begs Stella to return to him, shouting her name in agony and remorse, and takes her to bed. Stanley's intense sexuality is connected with violence and, in this way, is destructive. In fact Stanley and Stella can be seen as being caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of sexual desire and violence. Mitch infers correctly that this is not the first time Stanley has beaten Stella and she has returned to him.

Sexually and emotionally, Stanley and Stella are both dependent on each other, as can be seen when the couple make up at the end of Scene 3. However one of Stanley's main desires is to be the head of his household, or the king of his castle. In this respect he and Stella follow traditional gender roles. Because he is the bread winner and physically stronger, Stanley has the dominant role in their relationship. But the power struggle between Stanley and Blanche threatens Stanley's position in his home. Stella seems to share Blanche's point of view, at least temporarily, when she calls her husband an "animal thing." After he hits her, she leaves him with Blanche's help, escaping to Eunice's apartment.

Blanche and Mitch's dialogue expands the theme of truth versus illusion. They talk about how people who experience deep sorrow tend to be sincere or truthful. However their discussion is an instance of dramatic irony: the audience knows something that one or more of the characters do not, in this case, that Blanche is lying to Mitch. She falls back into her ladylike act, saying she is not used to having more than one drink. Mitch believes her, but the audience knows Blanche's statement is untrue. Later Blanche claims Stella is less than a year older than her, but the audience knows that Stella is quite a bit younger than her sister. Nevertheless Blanche's demure flirtatiousness works like a tonic on Mitch, who seems enraptured by her wiles.

Williams uses light during this exchange as a symbol of the contrast between truth versus illusion. For example, Blanche does not like the harsh glare of a naked light bulb, a symbol of her resistance to exposing ugly truths. She asks Mitch to place a paper Chinese lantern over a light bulb, saying, "I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark." She feels comfortable in the soft light cast by the lantern, which helps to hide her age by making her appear younger. In contrast Stanley and his friends play poker in the glare of a bulb in a green glass shade hanging from the kitchen ceiling, a light so strong it partially illuminates the bedroom. This harsh light represents Stanley's belief in brutal honesty.

Stella's return to Stanley conveys the intensity of their desire for each other, but also raises uncomfortable questions about their marriage. Blanche is right to wonder what drives Stella to return to Stanley, who has just hit Stella, knowing that she is pregnant. Is Stella that dependent on Stanley? Is she that overwhelmed by her sexual passion for him? By her love for him? Does Stanley scream for Stella because he desires her or loves her or because he needs to re-establish his dominance over her? Perhaps all these possibilities are true. The play provides no easy answers.

Questions for Scene 3

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Words are vital to a story. Read the final Act in Romeo and Juliet to find out the conclusion of the play. For the first three scenes in Act V, there is one word listed below. To prepare for the next
1-E xplain the pun in a paragraph that includes the following elements: A summary of the context of this passage. What is going on at this point in the play? Your summary must be at least 3-4 sentence
1-Explain the pun in a paragraph that includes the following elements: A summary of the context of this passage. What is going on at this point in the play? Your summary must be at least 3-4 sentences
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