The morning after the poker game, Stella lies serenely in the bedroom, her face aglow. Her satiated appearance contrasts strongly with that of Blanche, who, haggard and terrified, tiptoes into the messy apartment. Blanche is greatly relieved to find Stella safe and sound. She demands to know how Stella could go back and spend the night with Stanley after what he did to her. Stella feels Blanche is making a big issue out of nothing, claiming that she likes Stanley the way he is. She explains that Stanley’s violence is the type of bad habit you have to learn to put up with from other people, and she adds that Stanley has always been violent—on their honeymoon, he smashed all of the lightbulbs with her shoe. Blanche is horrified, but Stella refuses to listen and cheerily proceeds to start cleaning the apartment.
Blanche’s horror intensifies, and she begins to rant that she and Stella need to find a way out of their situation. She recounts how she recently ran into an old suitor named Shep Huntleigh who struck it rich in oil—perhaps he would be able to provide the money they need to escape. Blanche begins to compose a telegram to Shep, and when Stella laughs at her for being ridiculous, Blanche reveals that she is in fact completely broke. Stella offers her five dollars of the ten that Stanley gave her as an apology that morning. She says she has no desire to leave and that Blanche merely saw Stanley at his worst. Blanche retorts that she saw Stanley at his best, because “what such a man has to offer is animal force,” but she argues that it’s impossible for herself to live with such a man.
Blanche simply cannot understand how a woman raised at Belle Reve could choose to live her life with such an ungentlemanly, brutish man. Stella replies that her physical relationship with Stanley “make[s] everything else seem—unimportant.” Blanche argues that sheer desire is no basis for a marriage. Stella hints that Blanche is familiar with the pleasure of gratifying her desire. Blanche agrees that she has done so, but she adds that she wouldn’t settle down with a man whose primary attraction is sexual.
A train approaches, and while it roars past Stanley enters the flat unheard. Not knowing that Stanley is listening, Blanche holds nothing back and describes Stanley as a common, apelike, primitive brute. Stella listens coldly. Under cover of another passing train, Stanley slips out of the apartment, and enters it again noisily. Stella runs to Stanley and embraces him fiercely. Stanley grins at Blanche.
Although Stella technically condemns Stanley’s propensity for violence, it is clear to Blanche and to the audience that Stanley’s violent behavior heightens Stella’s desire for him. When Stella tells Blanche that Stanley broke all the lightbulbs with her shoe on their honeymoon, Blanche is horrified, but Stella assures her that she found the episode “thrilling.” Even the stage directions at the beginning of Scene Four, which liken Stella’s glowing face after a night spent with Stanley to that of an Eastern idol, suggest there is a mystical aspect to Stanley and Stella’s violent attraction. Stella calmly lies in bed at the scene’s opening as if she has just taken part in something holy.
When telling Stella that sheer desire is no basis for a marriage, Blanche points out that there is a streetcar in New Orleans named “Desire” that “bangs through the [French] Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.” She invokes the streetcar as a metaphor for what she believes Stella feels. Stella asks whether Blanche has ever ridden on the streetcar, and Blanche’s answer, “It brought me here,” foreshadows later events in the play. As Stella, Stanley, and Mitch soon learn, Blanche’s wanton acts of desire are indeed what led to her expulsion from life in Laurel, Mississippi. In fact, her family’s attitude toward desire began to push her toward her present predicament even before she was born. The family’s socially regulated need to shroud desire and cover up “epic fornications” led to the breakup of the Belle Reve estate and to the impoverishment of the present generation.