A Streetcar Named Desire

by: Tennessee Williams

Scene Three

Summary Scene Three

Analysis

Scene Three underscores the primal nature of Stella and Stanley’s union, and it cements Stanley’s identity as a villain. After Stanley’s drunken radio-hurling episode, Stella yells at him and calls him an “animal thing,” inciting Stanley’s attack. Later that night, Stanley bellows “STELL-LAHHHHH!” into the night like a wounded beast calling for the return of his mate. Their reunion is also described in terms of animal noises. Stanley’s cruel abuse of his wife convinces the audience that genteel Blanche has her sister’s best interests in mind more than Stanley does. Yet Stella sides with Stanley and his base instincts, infusing the play with an ominous sense of gloom.

Audience sympathy may establish itself in Blanche’s favor, but nothing about Blanche suggests that she will emerge as a heroine. The sense of mystery surrounding Blanche’s peculiar arrival in New Orleans takes on a sinister taint, and Blanche’s reluctance to be in bright light calls attention to this mysterious nature. Both metaphorically and literally, bright light threatens to undo Blanche’s many deceptions. While conversing with Mitch, she asks him to place a Chinese lampshade on the bare lightbulb in the bedroom, claiming that the naked bulb is “rude” and “vulgar.” Bright light, whether from a naked bulb or the midday sun, reveals Blanche’s true age. She can claim to be a woman of twenty-five in semi-darkness, but the glare of sharp light reveals a woman who has seen more, suffered more, and aged more. In addition, probing questions and honest speech function as a metaphorical light that threatens to reveal Blanche’s past and her true nature. Blanche is in no mental condition to withstand such scrutiny, so she has fashioned a tenuous make-believe world. Her effort to create a more flattering, untruthful portrait of herself for Mitch continues in upcoming scenes.

Mitch and Blanche clearly feel attracted to one another, perhaps because both have a broken quality as a result of their experiences with the death of loved ones. Blanche lost her husband and Mitch the girl who gave him the cigarette case with the poetic inscription. Both also nursed their parents through lingering deaths. However, whereas Mitch’s experiences have engendered in him a strong sincerity, Blanche seeks refuge in make-believe and insincerity—insincerity that is painfully obvious in her remarks about the sincerity of dying people. The difference in their reactions to similar experiences and in their approaches to life suggests that they are not an ideally matched pair. Blanche thinks on a spiritual level, while Mitch behaves practically and temperately. When they dance, we see that they are ill suited to one another even on a physical level—Mitch dances clumsily, awkwardly mimicking Blanche’s grand movements.

Prior to Scene Three, the piano music that sounds throughout the play functions chiefly to create atmosphere, suggesting the play’s setting in a somewhat seedy section of New Orleans. Over the course of the poker game and the Kowalskis’ fight, however, the piano’s sound changes, registering the turbulent emotional shifts of the action onstage. For example, discordant sounds play as the violent drama heightens.