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There are thousands of papers, stretching back over hundreds of years, affecting Belle Reve as, piece by piece, our improvident grandfathers and father and uncles and brothers exchanged the land for their epic fornications—to put it plainly!
It is six o’clock in the evening on the day following Blanche’s arrival. Blanche is offstage, taking a bath to soothe her nerves. When Stanley walks in the door, Stella tells him that in order to spare Blanche the company of Stanley’s poker buddies in the apartment that night, she wants to take Blanche out, to New Orleans’s French Quarter. Stella explains Blanche’s ordeal of losing Belle Reve and asks that Stanley be kind to Blanche by flattering her appearance. She also instructs Stanley not to mention the baby.
Stanley is more interested in the bill of sale from Belle Reve. Stella’s mention of the loss of Belle Reve seems to convince Stanley that Blanche’s emotional frailty is an act contrived to hide theft. He thinks Blanche has swindled Stella out of her rightful share of the estate, which means that he has been swindled. In order to prove his own victimization, he refers to the Napoleonic code, a code of law recognized in New Orleans from the days of French rule that places women’s property in the hands of their husbands.
Looking for a bill of sale, Stanley angrily pulls all of Blanche’s belongings out of her trunk. To him, Blanche’s glitzy evening dresses, feather boas, fur stoles, and costume jewelry look expensive, and he assumes she has spent the family fortune on them. He claims he’ll have his friend come over to appraise the value of the trunk’s contents. Enraged at Stanley’s actions and ignorance, Stella storms out onto the porch.
Blanche finishes her bath and appears before Stanley in the kitchen wearing a red satin robe. She says that she feels clean and fresh, then closes the curtains to the bedroom in order to dress out of Stanley’s sight. Stanley replies gruffly to Blanche’s idle chatter. When she unashamedly asks him to come and fasten her buttons, he refuses. He begins to question sarcastically how Blanche came to acquire so many fancy dress items, and he rejects Blanche’s flirtatious bids to make the conversation more kind-spirited. Sensing that the impending conversation might upset Stella, Blanche calls out to her sister requesting that she run to the drugstore to buy a soda.
Blanche takes from her trunk a box filled with papers and hands it to Stanley. Stanley snatches additional papers from her trunk and begins to read them. Blanche is horrified and grabs back this second set of papers, which are old letters and love poems she has saved from her husband. She redirects Stanley’s attention to the papers she originally handed to him, and Stanley realizes that Blanche has acted honestly—the estate really was lost on its mortgage, not sold as he suspected.
Blanche describes the estate’s decline. Her ancestors owned an enormous plantation, but the men so mishandled affairs with their “epic fornications” that only the house and a small parcel of land containing the family graveyard were left by the time Blanche and Stella were born. Blanche manages to disarm Stanley and convince him that no fraud has been perpetrated against anyone. Stanley lets slip that Stella is pregnant.