A Streetcar Named Desire | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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A Streetcar Named Desire | Scene 4 | Summary



The next morning Stella lies contentedly in bed. In contrast Blanche appears nervous as she stares at her sister. Blanche can't understand why Stella returned to Stanley the previous night and wants her sister to explain herself. Stella doesn't think there is anything to explain and regards her behavior as understandable. She's sorry Blanche saw Stanley act badly. Appalled that Stella had sex with her husband after he hit her, Blanche declares Stanley is a madman. She tells her sister that they have to get out. But Stella doesn't want to leave, saying married couples often have to tolerate each other's bad habits.

Blanche frantically makes plans to contact a millionaire she knows named Shep Huntleigh to ask him for money, so she and Stella can go into business together. She starts to write a telegram to Shep, but gives up the idea as futile. Even so Blanche feels she cannot remain under the same roof with Stanley. Stella tells Blanche to give things time to settle down, but Blanche insists they have to leave. Stella still does not want to leave Stanley.

Blanche then gives Stella her honest opinion about Stanley. Blanche calls Stanley an animal and then describes him as being "subhuman—something not quite to the stage of humanity yet!" Blanche encourages Stella to set her sights on noble ideals of humanity, such as music and poetry instead. However, as she does this, Stanley enters the apartment and overhears what Blanche says. Blanche and Stella have no idea Stanley is in the next room. After hearing Blanche's speech, Stanley quietly goes outside and then pretends that he has just come in. Stella gives Stanley an affectionate embrace. As she does this, Stanley smiles at Blanche as if he never heard a thing but knows full well that Stella's embrace means she has not been influenced by Blanche's view of him.


In Scene 4 Williams weaves together all the major themes of the play. Stella's desire for sexual intimacy has been fulfilled by Stanley, and she seems content with this. She tells Blanche, "I'm not in anything I want to get out of." Blanche is appalled by Stella's matter-of-fact attitude about Stanley's beatings and their lovemaking. Blanche wants to escape the situation with Stella. In a way Blanche sees the truth of Stella's domestic situation. Stella has become enmeshed with Stanley in a cycle of violence and sex. Stella glosses over this because Stanley satisfies her sexually. She loves him and feels he loves her.

However the play also emphasizes Stella's financial dependence on Stanley. Stella has no money of her own, but instead relies on an inconsistent allowance from her husband. In other words Stanley gives her money whenever he feels like it. In fact Stella encourages Blanche to depend financially on Stanley. Stella tells her sister, "You don't have to worry about anything while you're here. I mean—expenses." Stella has fallen into a passive role, which could be seen as a trap even though she doesn't view it as such.

Class differences also spur Blanche's desire to get away from Stanley. Blanche sees Stanley as being the opposite of the upper-class, refined gentlemen she has been brought up to admire. She tells Stella that he is subhuman and ape-like. Stella correctly accuses Blanche of viewing herself as superior to Stanley. Herein lies Blanche's self-deception. She believes Stella has regressed to being content having her sexual desires satisfied. Blanche likens Stella's desire to the streetcar named Desire, which she calls a "rattle-trap street-car that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another." However Blanche herself took this streetcar to get to the Kowalski apartment. So if the streetcar is a metaphor for "brutal desire," then it is this same type of desire that has brought Blanche to her current situation. Later in the play it is revealed that Blanche's own sexual appetites caused her to lose her job. Blanche, though, is ashamed to admit this about herself. Instead she uses the world of Southern tradition with its poetic, noble values to hide her basic, animal desires and sexual history. Blanche's illusion is that she views herself as being superior to people like Stanley because she denies her own similarity to them.

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