Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
A few weeks later, Stella cries while packing Blanche’s belongings. Blanche is taking a bath. Stanley and his buddies are playing poker in the kitchen, which the stage directions describe as having the same ghastly atmosphere as on the poker night when Stanley beat Stella. Eunice comes downstairs and enters the apartment. Stanley boasts about his own ability to survive and win out against others thanks to his spectacular confidence, and Mitch stammers incoherently in angry disbelief.
Eunice calls the men callous and goes over to Stella to see how the packing is going. Stella asks how her baby is, and Eunice says the baby is asleep. Eunice asks about Blanche, and Stella says they have arranged for Blanche to spend some time resting in the country, but Blanche thinks she is going to travel with Shep Huntleigh. Blanche emerges from the bathroom briefly, asking Stella to tell any callers that she’ll phone them back shortly. She requests that Stella find her yellow silk suit and its accessories, then returns to the bathroom. Stella tells Eunice that she isn’t certain she did the right thing, but that there is no way she could believe Blanche’s story about the rape and continue to live with Stanley. Eunice comforts Stella, saying she had no choice but to doubt Blanche’s story and continue life as usual with Stanley.
Blanche opens the bathroom door hesitantly, checking to make sure that the men playing poker won’t be able to see her as she comes out. She emerges with a slightly unhinged vivacity to the strains of the Varsouviana polka. Stella and Eunice behave in a gentle, accommodating manner. Blanche asks if Shep Huntleigh has called, and Stella answers, “[N]ot yet.”
At the poker table, the sound of Blanche’s voice sends Mitch into a daydream, until Stanley snaps him out of it. The sound of Stanley’s voice from the kitchen stuns Blanche. She remains still for a few moments, mouthing Stanley’s name, then with a rising hysteria demands to know what is going on. The women quiet and soothe her, and the men restrain Stanley from interfering. Blanche is appeased for the moment, but frantically anxious to leave. The other women convince her to wait. They offer her grapes, and she worries about whether they have been washed. Blanche starts to leave, but the women detain her again. They manage to hold her in the bedroom by playing on her fear of walking in front of the men at the poker table, saying she should wait until the game is over. Blanche lapses into a reverie about her upcoming vacation, imagining that she will die at sea from eating a dirty grape with a handsome young ship’s doctor at her side.
The doorbell rings, and Blanche waits tensely, hoping that the caller is Shep Huntleigh, her savior. In reality, a doctor and nurse are at the door. Eunice returns and announces that someone is calling for Blanche, saying she thinks it might be Shep. Blanche becomes tense, and the Varsouviana begins again. When Eunice mentions that a lady accompanies Blanche’s caller, Blanche grows more nervous. She frets again about walking in front of the poker players, but Stella accompanies her. The poker players stand uncomfortably as Blanche passes, except for Mitch, who stares at the table. When Blanche steps out onto the porch and sees the doctor, not Shep Huntleigh, she retreats in fright to where Stella is standing, then slips back into the apartment.
Inside, Stanley steps up to block Blanche’s way to the bedroom. Blanche rushes around him, claiming she has forgotten something. The weird reflections and shadows reappear on the walls, and the Varsouviana music and jungle cries grow louder. The doctor sends the nurse in after Blanche. In stage whispers, Stanley advises the doctor to go in, and the doctor tells the nurse to grab Blanche. As the nurse speaks to Blanche, her voice echoes eerily. Blanche panics and asks to be left alone. Stanley says the only thing Blanche could have possibly forgotten is her paper lantern, which he tears from the lightbulb and hands to her. Blanche shrieks and tries to escape. The nurse holds Blanche, who struggles in her grasp.
Stella bolts out onto the porch, and Eunice goes to comfort her. Stella begs Eunice to stop the group from hurting Blanche, but Eunice won’t let Stella go. She tells Stella that she has made the right decision. The men move toward the bedroom, and Stanley blocks Mitch from entering. When Mitch goes to strike Stanley, Stanley pushes him back, and Mitch collapses in tears at the table. The doctor takes off his hat and approaches Blanche gently. At Blanche’s soft request, the doctor tells the nurse to release Blanche, and that a straitjacket won’t be necessary. The doctor leads Blanche out of the bedroom, she holding onto his arm. “Whoever you are,” Blanche says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
The doctor leads Blanche through the kitchen as the poker players look on. Stella, crouched on the porch in agony, calls out her sister’s name as she passes by. Blanche allows herself to be led onward and does not turn to look at Stella. The doctor, the nurse, and Blanche turn the corner and disappear. Eunice brings the baby to Stella and thrusts it into her arms, then goes to the kitchen to join the men. Stanley goes out onto the porch and over to Stella, who sobs while holding her child. Stanley comforts Stella with loving words and begins to caress her. In the kitchen, Steve deals a new hand.
Blanche’s behavior toward the poker players and during her bath reflects the way being raped by Stanley has scarred her. At the start of the play, she performs for Stanley’s friends and demands their charm and devotion. By its end, she wants to hide from their gaze and hopes they won’t notice her. Blanche spends much of Scene Eleven in the bath, but the bathing in this scene is different than before—an attempt to wash away Stanley’s recent violation rather than her past sexual acts. She also bathes to prepare for her -imagined meeting with Shep Huntleigh rather than for any real encounter with a man. Blanche’s bath in this scene shows her cleansing herself for an impending ritual and hiding from real danger rather than simply calming her nerves. It is clear that Stanley has destroyed Blanche’s already tenuous connection to reality. She no longer hopes that reality will prove itself adaptable to her dreams.
Blanche’s illusions and deceptions about her past lose out to the disturbing reality of the Kowalskis’ marriage, but by the end of the scene the marriage proves to be a sort of illusion, based on deception. The two sisters’ roles reverse. Stella admits that she may have entered a world of make-believe when she acknowledges that she cannot believe Blanche’s story about the rape and continue to live with Stanley. Blanche, by retreating into hysteria and madness, and by refusing to acknowledge her sister as she leaves the apartment with the doctor, may be sparing Stella the horror of having to face the truth about her husband. Blanche’s descent into madness shields Stella from the truth. If Blanche were to remain lucid, Stella might have to give Blanche’s claims credibility.
In many of his plays, Williams depicts unmarried, fallen, Southern women such as Blanche who are victims to society’s rules. The desperate nature of Blanche’s situation is apparent in her mental attempts to convince herself that the chivalric gentleman still exists in the form of Shep Huntleigh. Her quiet determination to depend “on the kindness of strangers” is funny, because in the past Blanche has slept with quite a few strangers, but it also indicates the resignation and defeat women in her position must accept when it comes to counting on their families. Most of the strangers we see in the play—the newspaper boy, the Mexican flower woman—show that they have very little other than sadness to offer Blanche. Social convention in the Old South diminishes unmarried women completely, leaving them vulnerable to domination or destruction by men. By showing the triumph of brutality and ruthlessness over gentility and delicacy, this scene captures and portrays the disposable nature of Blanche’s kind.
When she insists that Stella’s life with Stanley must go on, Eunice argues that male companionship is a woman’s means of survival in the face of social convention. Eunice believes that Stella must work fiercely to maintain her relationship with Stanley. Given what the audience sees Stella and Eunice suffer at the hands of their husbands, it is unlikely that these women believe nothing of Blanche’s story. However, acknowledging its truth would require them to acknowledge their husbands’ brutality, and it would interfere with their survival. Life “going on” depends on having the social protection of marriage and a family, regardless of the cost.
Stella’s “luxurious” tears at the end of the play are shed not only for her sister, but also for the complexity and tension between illusion and reality, between Blanche’s story and Stella’s own understanding of her life. Stella cannot believe Blanche’s story, but she cannot completely deny it either. Ultimately, Stella cries for herself, for Blanche, and for the fact that a part of her is glad to see Blanche go. She accepts the overdone comfort Stanley offers, which is peppered with endearments like “now, love,” and which conforms to the script Stella needs for life to go on. An offstage announcement that another poker game (“seven-card stud”) is about to commence ends the play with a symbol of the deception and bluffing that has taken place in the Kowalski house. The play’s last line also serves as a subtle reminder that the nature of the game in the Kowalski household can always change.
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