Stella and Blanche are in the bedroom on an August afternoon. Blanche breaks out in laughter at the untruthfulness of the letter she has just finished writing to Shep Huntleigh, prompting Stella to ask her about the letter’s contents. Blanche gleefully reads the letter aloud. In it, she suggests that she visit Shep in Dallas, and she claims that she and Stella have been amusing themselves with society parties and visits to luxurious country homes. Stella finds no humor in her sister’s stories.
Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of Steve and Eunice fighting upstairs. Eunice accuses Steve of infidelity and cries out as he begins to beat her. After a huge noise, Eunice runs out of her flat, yelling that she is going to the police. Stanley, returning home from bowling, asks Stella why Eunice is so distraught. Stella says that Eunice has had a fight with Steve, and she asks whether Eunice is with the police. Stanley replies that he has just seen her at the bar around the corner, having a drink. Stella responds lightheartedly that alcohol is a “more practical” cure than the police for Eunice’s woes. Steve comes downstairs nursing a bruise on his forehead, inquires after Eunice’s whereabouts, and grumpily hurries off to the bar.
In the Kowalski apartment, Stanley and Blanche have a tense conversation. Blanche makes superficially charming comments to Stanley that subtly insult his lower-class disposition. Stanley is unusually rude to Blanche. He insinuates that he has acquired knowledge of Blanche’s past and asks her if she knows a certain man named Shaw. Blanche falters immediately at the mention of Shaw’s name and answers evasively, replying that there are many Shaws in the world. Stanley goes on to say that the Shaw he met often travels to Blanche’s hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, and that Shaw claims Blanche was often the client of a disreputable hotel. Blanche fiercely denies Stanley’s accusation and insists that Shaw must have confused her with someone else. Stanley says he will check with Shaw the next time he sees him. Eunice and Steve stroll back to their apartment, affectionately wrapped in each other’s arms. Stanley then heads off to the bar, telling Stella to meet him there.
Stanley’s remarks leave Blanche horribly shaken, but Stella doesn’t seem to notice. Blanche demands to know what people in town have been saying about her, but Stella has no idea what Blanche is talking about. Blanche confesses that she has behaved badly during the past two years, the period when she was losing Belle Reve. She criticizes herself for not being self-sufficient and describes herself as “soft,” claiming that she has to rely on Chinese lanterns and light colors to make herself “shimmer and glow.” She then admits that she no longer has the youth or beauty to glow in the soft light.
Offering Blanche a soda, Stella responds that she doesn’t like to hear such depressing talk. Blanche says that she wants a shot of alcohol to put in the Coke. She tries to get it herself, but Stella insists on waiting on her, claiming that she likes to do so because it reminds her of their childhood. Blanche becomes hysterical and promises to leave soon, before Stanley throws her out. Stella calms her for a moment, but when she accidentally spills a little soda on Blanche’s skirt, Blanche lets out a shriek.
Blanche tries to laugh off the fact that she is shaking, claiming that she feels nervous about her date that evening with Mitch. She explains that she hasn’t been honest with him about her age and that she feels she lacks the forces of attraction her youthful beauty once provided her. She has not gone to bed with him because she wants Mitch’s respect, but she’s worried he will lose interest in her. She is convinced that she must maintain her act if Mitch is to love her. She wants him very badly and says she needs him as a stabilizing force—and as her ticket away from Elysian Fields. As Stanley comes around the corner, yelling for Stella, Steve, and Eunice, Stella assures Blanche that everything will work out. She gives Blanche a kiss and then runs off to join Stanley at the bar. Eunice and Steve run after her.
Sipping her drink, Blanche sits alone in the apartment and waits for Mitch. A young man comes to the door to collect money for the newspaper. Blanche flirts with him, offers him a drink, and launches a seduction. The young man is uncomfortable and nervous. Blanche declares that he looks like an Arabian prince, then kisses him on the lips and sends him on his way, saying, “I’ve got to be good—and keep my hands off children.” A few moments later, Mitch appears with a bunch of roses. Blanche accepts the flowers with much fanfare, while Mitch glows.
Although Stella’s reassurance and comforting of Blanche about her relationship with Mitch is a rare moment of unchecked affection between the two sisters, by not revealing her past Blanche prevents Stella’s full comprehension of the desperate nature of Blanche’s situation. Even without Stanley around to prevent free and open communication, Blanche cannot bring herself to explain her belief that Mitch is her last chance of salvation from ruin. Because Stella does not know the full weight of the baggage Blanche is carrying, she cannot provide the advice and support Blanche needs, and she simply expresses hope that Mitch will bring Blanche the same contentment that Stanley brings her.
When she throws herself at the young newspaper boy, Blanche reveals her hypocrisy—she is lustful underneath her genteel, morally upright facade. Blanche condemns Stanley and Stella’s purely sexual relationship, but we see that her urges are every bit as strong as Stella’s, yet much less appropriate. Compared with Blanche’s behavior, Stella’s love life looks healthy and wholesome. Eunice and Steve’s quick reconciliation after their fight also underscores the notion that Stella and Stanley’s violent love is the norm in these parts. Like the sexual attachment between Stella and Stanley, Eunice and Steve’s sexual attachment appears far healthier than Blanche’s, and Blanche’s expectations for love begin to seem unrealistic. As a dramatic device, the scene with the newspaper boy prepares us to learn the truth about the circumstances surrounding Blanche’s departure from Mississippi. She is one of the “epic fornicators” of her clan, the last in a line of aristocrats who secretly indulged in forbidden acts because they could not find a stable outlet for their desires. When a bumbling Mitch arrives at the apartment for his date with Blanche, he quickly becomes an antidote to Blanche’s strong carnal desires.
As the identity Blanche has constructed for herself begins to disintegrate, she begins to lose ground in her battle against Stanley. Stanley’s questioning of Blanche about her acquaintanceship with Shaw is the play’s first direct mention of Blanche’s blemished past. Blanche does a poor job of pretending not to know Shaw. Her claim that she needs to avoid revealing her past to Mitch further supports our suspicions about her truthfulness. Up to this point, Blanche’s jitteriness and her need to hide herself from the outside world have suggested that she also had a past to hide. Now, the emerging facts of Blanche’s past begin to confirm the hypocrisy of her social snobbery.
I don't understand your view of how Blanche's rape, In which you stated, "Blanche's most visceral experiences are illusions and repressed memories that torment her, so that her rape seems an almost inevitable consequence of her psychological pain." How exactly, in anyway, is Blanche's rape inevitable? Did she appeal weak stimulating Stanley's carnal desire to conquer Blanche's threatening, bourgeoisie personality?
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Wait, wait. Mitch -doesn't rape someone- and that makes him a gentleman? C'mon. That's a pretty low bar for "gentleman" isn't it? That word has a specific meaning and it is for sure not "doesn't commit a horrible, violent crime even though he wants to."
I think the wording you're looking for there is something other than "fundamental gentlemanliness." There is a whole lot of daylight between simply not being a violent criminal and being a gentleman.