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Blanche Dubois, who has been fired from her teaching job, arrives unannounced at the small two-room apartment of her sister, Stella Kowalski. Stella, who lives with Stanley, her rough and domineering husband, in a poor section of the French Quarter in New Orleans, welcomes her older sister.
Blanche is shocked by the looks and size of the apartment and expresses her doubts about the lack of privacy, but she refuses to go to a hotel for she cannot bear to be alone. Blanche also drinks heavily to calm her nerves, but initially hides the fact. Blanche knows that her youth is slipping away and wants to be reassured, which Stella dutifully does. Blanche also reveals that Belle Reve; their old, aristocratic, and palatial house in Laurel, no longer belongs to them. She speaks of the struggle it took to hang on to the place and expresses resentment that Stella had taken an easy escape route by marrying Stanley, a Polish foreigner. Blanche describes her long vigils at the bedside of the dying members of the family and how the house had to be mortgaged to pay for the funeral expenses.
Stanley arrives, and Blanche introduces herself. He is an ex-soldier, every inch a male and very proud of it. He plays poker with his friends and is fond of drinking and bowling. He is not very comfortable about Blanche's visit and does not make her feel very welcome. He is a very dominating person. He is cold and extremely practical, demanding to see the bill of sale for Belle Reve and resenting the fact that, as Stella's husband, he has lost his lawful share in the property. He suspects that Blanche has bought fur coats and jewelry by cheating Stella and Stanley of their share of Belle Reve.
The following morning, Blanche scolds Stella for giving in to such a boorish husband and suggests a solution. She will approach Shep Huntleigh about helping them; he is an old admirer and a Texas oil billionaire. Blanche then reveals that her funds have run down to a mere 65 cents, and she is desperate to change her situation. She cannot bear to be under Stanley's roof and criticizes him for his vulgar, animalistic ways. Reminding Stella of their old aristocratic life in Laurel, Blanche encourages Stella to strike out at her aristocratic husband. Stanley, who secretly overhears this conversation, realizes that Blanche is a threat to his marriage. He will never be able to forgive Blanche.
Blanche tries to grow closer to Mitch. After a date, she reveals her tragic past to him. She married a very young boy named Allan whom she later discovered with another man. When she expressed her disgust to him, he committed suicide. She has been unable to overcome the trauma of his death and her accompanying guilt complex. Mitch, too, has had a tragic past. He loved a dying girl and cannot forget her; and now, still single, he looks after his ailing mother with dedication. After their first date, Blanche speaks to Stella of her growing hopes for marrying Mitch and how she would now like to settle down and make him happy. Blanche, however, seems to have trouble with faithfulness. She flirts with Stanley and kisses the young newspaper boy who comes to the door. She blames her promiscuity on her feeling lonely and fearful after the death of her husband. To help her forget her trauma and guilt, she had brief affairs with several soldiers at an army camp in Laurel. Her behavior was so sad that she was turned out of the Flamingo Hotel, where she stayed after Belle Reve was lost. She lost her job as a schoolteacher because of a fling with a seventeen-year old student. In fact, she has been permanently exiled from Laurel.