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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
It's poker night at the Kowalskis. Stella plans to take Blanche on the town to get her out of the house while Stanley and his cronies drink beer and play for modest stakes.
While Blanche soaks in the tub Stella urges Stanley to be kind to Blanche. Stanley ignores Stella's pleas. He wants to know more about the loss of Belle Reve. He can't understand that the place is just-gone! He wants to see a bill of sale or papers of some kind to confirm Blanche's story. He cites the Napoleonic Code that says what belongs to the wife also belongs to the husband and vice versa. If Belle Reve is gone, it's his loss as well as Stella's.
Stanley is right. Because the Louisiana Territory was owned by France before President Thomas Jefferson bought it for the United States, French civil law, the so-called Code Napoleon, was used for a long time to govern Louisiana's civil affairs. In the Code you find rules about inheritance and property. In recent years, however, the Code has gradually been superseded by new laws and court decisions.
Stanley suspects that Blanche used the money from Belle Reve to deck herself in furs and jewels and costly dresses. In defense of Blanche, Stella tells him that the furs are cheap and the jewelry is fake, but Stanley refuses to let the matter rest.
Taking Blanche's side could not be easy for Stella, yet she stands up for her sister. She may believe Blanche's story. Or perhaps Blanche's nervous condition has aroused Stella's sympathy. In either case, Stella is caught in the middle. Before Blanche emerges from the bathroom, Stella escapes to the porch, leaving Stanley to face Blanche alone.
Not suspecting what is in store, Blanche comes out of the bathroom and banters cheerfully with Stanley. She plays the role of coquette, flaunting her helplessness and fishing for compliments. But he is wise to her flirtatious antics, and she is not impressed with his brutishness. Considering his sexual power, he may also be testing the water. Does she have the strength to resist him? He probably would like to find out.
Blanche could probably go on all day, but Stanley grows impatient with the chatter. Suddenly he booms out "Now let's cut the re-bop!" He wants to know the truth about Belle Reve. When he cites the Napoleonic Code to Blanche, she taunts him, "My, but you have an impressive judicial air!" She sprays him with perfume, teasing him some more. Her seductive manner drives him to say that he'd get the wrong ideas about her if she wasn't Stella's sister. The remark sobers her a little. She grants that while she may fib a little, she wouldn't lie about something as important as Belle Reve. She'll show the papers to Stanley if he wants to see them.
Impatient for the papers, Stanley grabs for them inside Blanche's trunk. What he finds is a packet of love letters and poems written by Blanche's late husband, Allan. Blanche refers to her husband as a "boy." It's a curious usage. Blanche and he were married when both were very young. Allan died before he reached manhood. In another sense, Allan lacked the qualities to be considered a man in the fullest sense of the term. You'll find out why further in the play. In any event, Blanche treasures his letters and vows to burn them now that Stanley's hands have touched them.
Finally, she hands Stanley a towering pack of legal papers that span the history of Belle Reve. This time, Blanche attributes the loss of the plantation not to the numerous deaths that occurred there, but to the "epic fornications" of generations of DuBois men. Stanley is befuddled by the mass of papers. Perhaps Blanche was telling the truth after all. He explains his interest in Stella's welfare, especially now that she's going to have a baby.
The news of Stella's baby stirs Blanche. She rushes out to find Stella and to tell her that she and Stanley have settled their differences. Blanche brags that she conquered Stanley with wit and a bit of flirting. But you'll notice that her triumph over Stanley is mostly wishful thinking. If he were to retell what happened during this scene, the story would probably be a lot different.
You might think of A Streetcar Named Desire as a modern equivalent of a classic tragedy, in which you follow the suffering and gradual defeat of a person who probably doesn't deserve it. As the hero fights to survive he cannot keep from sinking further into hopelessness and despair. It seems as though his fate has been predetermined. As you continue the play, try to discern other similarities between Blanche and a typical tragic hero.