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A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams

Scene Eight

Scene Seven

Scene Nine

Summary

People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Forty-five minutes later, Blanche’s gloomy birthday dinner is winding down. The place set for Mitch remains empty. Blanche tries to break the gloomy silence by asking Stanley to tell a funny story. He declines, so Blanche tells a lame joke involving a priest and a swearing parrot. Stanley makes a point of not laughing. Instead, he reaches across the table for a chop and eats it with his fingers. Stella scolds him for having greasy fingers and orders him to help clean up. He smashes his plate and declares that he is sick and tired of being called derogatory names such as “greasy.” He orders both sisters never to forget that he is the king of his house. He smashes his cup and saucer, yells that he has cleared his place, and storms out onto the porch. Stella begins to cry. Blanche again asks Stella what happened while she was taking a bath, but Stella says that nothing happened.

Blanche declares that she will call Mitch to find out why he didn’t attend her dinner. Stella implores her not to, but Blanche goes into the bedroom to make the call. Stella joins Stanley on the porch. Blanche leaves a message—Mitch is not home—and stays by the phone, looking frightened. Stanley holds Stella, ignoring her reproaches, and promises her that things will be all right again after Blanche leaves and the baby comes. Stella goes back inside and lights the candles on the cake. Blanche and Stanley join her.

Blanche announces that she should never have called Mitch and that she doesn’t need to take insults from a man like him. Stanley begins to complain about the lingering heat from Blanche’s steam bath, and she snaps that she has already apologized three times. She says that a healthy Polack like Stanley wouldn’t understand her need to calm her nerves. Stanley angrily retorts that Polish people are called Poles, not Polacks, and that he is “one hundred percent American.”

The phone rings, and Blanche tries to answer it, expecting Mitch. Stanley intercepts her and speaks to the caller, one of his bowling buddies. While Stanley speaks on the phone, Stella touches Blanche on the shoulder. Blanche, confused and angered by Stella’s unexplained pitying behavior, tells Stella to back off. Stanley erupts, yelling for Blanche to be quiet. She tries her best to control herself as Stanley returns to the table. With a thin veneer of kindness, Stanley offers Blanche a birthday present. She is surprised and delighted—until she opens it and sees that it is a one-way ticket back to Laurel on a Greyhound bus, leaving Tuesday.

The Varsouviana music begins to play as Blanche tries first to smile, then to laugh. When her efforts fail, she runs to the bedroom and then to the bathroom, clutching her throat and making gagging noises as if Stanley’s cruelty has literally taken her breath away. Stanley, pleased with himself and his actions, prepares to go bowling. But Stella demands to know why Stanley has treated Blanche so callously. She admits that much about Blanche is insufferable, but argues that Blanche’s naïve trust and kindness have been abused over the years, and that the current Blanche is the product of suffering. He explains that Stella thought he was common when they first met, but he took her off her pedestal, and things were wonderful until Blanche arrived and made fun of him. As he speaks, a sudden change comes over Stella, and she slowly shuffles from the bedroom to the kitchen. After a minute, Stanley notices that something is wrong and cuts his diatribe short. Stella quietly asks to be taken to the hospital. Stanley is with her in an instant, speaking softly as he leads her out the door.

Analysis

In Scene Eight, Stanley, Blanche, and Stella become increasingly short-tempered. Stanley shows that he has taken all that he can handle of Blanche and will allow Stella to sway him with her protestations no longer. He is intent on removing Blanche from his house, and he sees no need for delicacy or kindness in doing so. However, Blanche too seems to have reached the limit of her capacity for niceness. She loses her temper briefly when she snaps to Stanley that she has already apologized three times for her bath. Her outburst constitutes the first time Blanche openly express anger in the play.

Stella too becomes increasingly assertive as she begs Stanley to explain his contempt for Blanche and to attempt to understand Blanche’s nature. She insists that Stanley not leave to go bowling and demands an explanation from him for his cruelty to Blanche. These actions constitute the greatest assertion of independence Stella makes toward Stanley throughout the entire play. As Stella grows angrier, her grammar becomes more formal, and she uses words such as “needn’t.” Stanley’s grammar, on the other hand, grows sloppier, and he begins to speak in sentence fragments. The language Stella and Stanley use indicates their respective retreats away from each other into their social roles. But just when Stella seems to be thinking independently from Stanley and reasserting her connection to Blanche in her outrage at Stanley’s cruelty, she goes into labor. The baby reasserts Stella’s connection to Stanley and makes Stella dependent on him for help. He is once again in control as he takes her to the hospital.

Stella does not recognize her own similarities with Blanche. Her comments to Stanley as she begs him to understand Blanche’s situation show that she views Blanche with pity. Yet, when making her case to Stanley, Stella argues that Blanche was trusting in her youth until “people like you abused her.” Even though Stella recognizes that Blanche was worn down by “people like” Stanley, she does not reject him or realize that she could wind up in Blanche’s place. Stanley, however, reminds Stella of her similarity to Blanche when he points out that he had to pull Stella down from the columns of Belle Reve.

Stanley’s discussion of his and Stella’s relationship as a response to Stella’s demand to know why he is so cruel to Blanche seems strange. He begins by asking Stella if she remembers when she found him “common,” and states that after he pulled Stella down from the columns of Belle Reve, he and Stella were happy to be “common” together until Blanche showed up. The implication of Stanley’s speech is that he desires to take ownership of people and things, like Blanche and Stella, that make him feel inferior. What Stanley doesn’t understand is how precarious and insecure the once majestic world of Belle Reve was by the time Stella and Blanche were born. His actions toward Blanche are all the more cruel because he misunderstands how weak Blanche is to begin with. Stanley’s desire for ownership manifests itself as the furious sexual desire he displays for Stella in the play. The heated passion of Stanley’s marriage foreshadows his enraged violence toward Blanche, which also expresses his need for ownership, but in a different form.

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How was Blanche's rape inevitable

by PoeticProclivity, September 03, 2012

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?

9 Comments

105 out of 128 people found this helpful

fundamental gentlemanliness: I don't think it means what you think it means.

by ParisCoffee, March 06, 2014

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.

1 Comments

8 out of 9 people found this helpful

Stella?

by kdiepholzeghs, August 28, 2014

I am failing to see how Stella is not a major character -- and especially how Mitch is considered to be MORE major than her.

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