Around 2 a.m., Blanche and Mitch return to the Kowalski flat after their date. The large plastic statuette that Mitch carries suggests their date took place at an amusement park. Blanche appears completely wiped out. Mitch is more awake but clearly melancholy. He apologizes for not giving her much entertainment during their evening, but Blanche says it was her fault that she simply couldn’t manage to enjoy herself. She reveals that she will be leaving the flat soon. When Mitch asks if he may kiss her goodnight, she tells him he doesn’t have to ask permission. He points out that she responded negatively when he had tried for a bit more “familiarity” when they parked his car by the lake one night. Blanche explains that though Mitch’s attraction flatters her, a single girl becomes “lost” if she doesn’t keep her urges under control. She teases Mitch, suggesting that he is used to women who are easy on their first date. Mitch tells Blanche that he likes her because she is different from anyone he has ever met, an independent spirit. Blanche laughs and invites him in for a nightcap.
Blanche lights a candle and prepares the drinks, saying they must celebrate and forget their worries on their last night together. She suggests that they pretend to be on a date at an artists’ café in Paris. She asks Mitch if he speaks French. After he tells her he doesn’t, she teases him in the language he can’t understand, asking, “Do you want to sleep together this evening? You don’t understand? What a shame!” Blanche grows rapidly more amorous. Mitch won’t take his coat off because he’s embarrassed about his perspiration, so she takes it off for him. She tries to put Mitch at ease by admiring his imposing physique. When he asks her what she weighs, she tells him to guess. He picks her up, and the game leads to a brief and somewhat clumsy embrace. Blanche stops him from putting any more moves on her, claiming she has “old-fashioned ideals.” She sarcastically rolls her eyes as she offers this remark, but Mitch cannot see her face.
After an uncomfortable silence, Mitch asks where Stanley and Stella are, and he suggests that they all go out on a double date some night. Blanche laughs at the idea, and asks how Mitch and Stanley became friends. Mitch replies that they were military buddies. Blanche asks what Stanley says about her, expressing her conviction that Stanley hates her. Mitch thinks that Stanley simply doesn’t understand her. Blanche argues that Stanley wants to ruin her.
Mitch interrupts Blanche’s increasingly hysterical tirade against Stanley to ask her how old she is. Caught off guard, she responds by asking why he wants to know. He says that when he told his ailing mother about Blanche, who would like to see Mitch settled before she dies, he could not tell her how old Blanche was. Blanche says that she understands how lonely Mitch will be when his mother is gone. She fixes another drink for herself and gives a revealing account of what happened with the tender young man she married. She was only sixteen when they met, and she loved him terribly. Somehow, though, her love didn’t seem to be enough to save him from his unhappiness—something was tormenting him. Then one day she came home to find her young husband in bed with an older man who had been his longtime friend. In the hours after the incident, they all pretended nothing happened. The three of them went out to a casino. On the dance floor, while dancing a polka, the Varsouviana, she drunkenly confronted her young husband and told him he “disgusted” her. The boy rushed out of the casino, and everyone heard a shot. He had killed himself with a bullet to the head.
Mitch comes to her and holds her, comforting her. He tells her, “You need somebody. And I need somebody, too.” They kiss, even as she sobs. Blanche says, “Sometimes—there’s God—so quickly!”
Blanche’s encounter with Mitch exposes her sexual double standard. In secret, she bluntly attempts to seduce the young man collecting for the newspaper, an interaction that happens outside the boundaries of acceptable or even reasonable behavior. Because the incident is so far removed from Blanche’s professed moral standards, she feels free to behave as she likes without fear. In contrast, since the Kowalskis and their neighbors know of Blanche’s outings with Mitch, she believes that they must take place within the bounds of what she sees as social propriety.
Blanche’s revelation of the story of her first love occurs in a heavily symbolic manner. Blanche describes her all-consuming first love in terms of lightness and darkness, using the concept of light to explain her interior state as she does earlier in the play. She says that when she fell in love, the once-shadowy world seemed suddenly illuminated with a “blinding light.” She extends the metaphor when she describes the aftermath of her thoughtless, cruel remark to her husband, saying, “[T]he searchlight . . . was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this—kitchen—candle.” We see in earlier scenes that a lack of light has enabled Blanche to live a lie, but now we see also that, without light, Blanche has lived without a clear view of herself and reality.
The music of the Varsouviana that plays in the background during Blanche’s story is also symbolic. Blanche mentions that the Varsouviana was playing as she told her husband that he disgusted her, and the music represents Blanche’s memory of her husband’s suicide. When the polka surfaces from this point on, it signals that Blanche is remembering her greatest regret and escaping from the present reality into her fantasy world. Blanche’s husband’s suicide was the critical moment in her life, the moment she lost her innocence.
Mitch’s lack of formal manners and education make him an imperfect match for Blanche, but he and Blanche are able to relate on a ground of common suffering and loneliness. Though she is clearly the object of Mitch’s affection, he is the one with the upper hand in the relationship. Blanche needs Mitch as a stabilizing force in her life, and if her relationship with him fails, she faces a world that offers few prospects for a financially challenged, unmarried woman who is approaching middle age. Unfortunately, though Blanche lets down her flippant guard and confesses her role in her husband’s suicide to Mitch at the scene’s close, her failure to be upfront about her age, her entire past, and her intentions signals doom for her relationship with him. She tacitly admits that she needs Mitch when she accepts his embrace, but her fears of acknowledging reality overpower her and prevent her from telling the full truth.
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.
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