Blanche DuBois arrives at the home of her sister Stella Kowalski, married to the brutal Stanley. We learn that the DuBois family has lost their plantation, Belle Reve, in Laurel, Mississippi, and that Blanche has been fired for sleeping with one of her 17 year-old students, though she does not tell Stella this. Blanche’s ex-husband killed himself after his homosexual affair was revealed. While Blanche is arrogant and entertains delusions of grandeur, Stella is meek and subservient. Stanley and Stella have a passionate but abusive relationship, with Stanley drinking and beating and shouting at his pregnant wife. When Stella begins to seduce Stanley’s friend Mitch and tries to intervene in their marriage as a moral superior, Stanley digs up her past and confronts her about it. In the ensuing fight, we are led to believe he rapes her, causing a psychic break that becomes Stanley’s excuse to have her carted off to the looney bin (“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” she says dimly.) Stanley and Stella make a tentative peace that marks the start of another cycle of violence in their home.
It would be interesting to put this in conversation with other texts about the decay of the South – Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, etc. I also think John Osborne’s 1956 Look Back In Anger is a direct rewriting of the play in postwar Britain – a national rather than a regional project. In that play, the husband similarly abuses his pregnant wife, though he does not rape her friend, but engages with her consensually. At the end, the two original lovers are drawn back together through pet names and begin their unhealthy cycle once more.