Stella and Blanche are in the bedroom on an August afternoon. Blanche breaks out in laughter at the untruthfulness of the letter she has just finished writing to Shep Huntleigh, prompting Stella to ask her about the letter’s contents. Blanche gleefully reads the letter aloud. In it, she suggests that she visit Shep in Dallas, and she claims that she and Stella have been amusing themselves with society parties and visits to luxurious country homes. Stella finds no humor in her sister’s stories.
Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of Steve and Eunice fighting upstairs. Eunice accuses Steve of infidelity and cries out as he begins to beat her. After a huge noise, Eunice runs out of her flat, yelling that she is going to the police. Stanley, returning home from bowling, asks Stella why Eunice is so distraught. Stella says that Eunice has had a fight with Steve, and she asks whether Eunice is with the police. Stanley replies that he has just seen her at the bar around the corner, having a drink. Stella responds lightheartedly that alcohol is a “more practical” cure than the police for Eunice’s woes. Steve comes downstairs nursing a bruise on his forehead, inquires after Eunice’s whereabouts, and grumpily hurries off to the bar.
In the Kowalski apartment, Stanley and Blanche have a tense conversation. Blanche makes superficially charming comments to Stanley that subtly insult his lower-class disposition. Stanley is unusually rude to Blanche. He insinuates that he has acquired knowledge of Blanche’s past and asks her if she knows a certain man named Shaw. Blanche falters immediately at the mention of Shaw’s name and answers evasively, replying that there are many Shaws in the world. Stanley goes on to say that the Shaw he met often travels to Blanche’s hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, and that Shaw claims Blanche was often the client of a disreputable hotel. Blanche fiercely denies Stanley’s accusation and insists that Shaw must have confused her with someone else. Stanley says he will check with Shaw the next time he sees him. Eunice and Steve stroll back to their apartment, affectionately wrapped in each other’s arms. Stanley then heads off to the bar, telling Stella to meet him there.
Stanley’s remarks leave Blanche horribly shaken, but Stella doesn’t seem to notice. Blanche demands to know what people in town have been saying about her, but Stella has no idea what Blanche is talking about. Blanche confesses that she has behaved badly during the past two years, the period when she was losing Belle Reve. She criticizes herself for not being self-sufficient and describes herself as “soft,” claiming that she has to rely on Chinese lanterns and light colors to make herself “shimmer and glow.” She then admits that she no longer has the youth or beauty to glow in the soft light.
Offering Blanche a soda, Stella responds that she doesn’t like to hear such depressing talk. Blanche says that she wants a shot of alcohol to put in the Coke. She tries to get it herself, but Stella insists on waiting on her, claiming that she likes to do so because it reminds her of their childhood. Blanche becomes hysterical and promises to leave soon, before Stanley throws her out. Stella calms her for a moment, but when she accidentally spills a little soda on Blanche’s skirt, Blanche lets out a shriek.
Blanche tries to laugh off the fact that she is shaking, claiming that she feels nervous about her date that evening with Mitch. She explains that she hasn’t been honest with him about her age and that she feels she lacks the forces of attraction her youthful beauty once provided her. She has not gone to bed with him because she wants Mitch’s respect, but she’s worried he will lose interest in her. She is convinced that she must maintain her act if Mitch is to love her. She wants him very badly and says she needs him as a stabilizing force—and as her ticket away from Elysian Fields. As Stanley comes around the corner, yelling for Stella, Steve, and Eunice, Stella assures Blanche that everything will work out. She gives Blanche a kiss and then runs off to join Stanley at the bar. Eunice and Steve run after her.