A Streetcar Named Desire: Novel Summary: Scene 11
It is some weeks later. Stella is packing Blanche’s things. Stanley, Steve, Mitch and Pablo are playing poker. Blanche is bathing. Eunice, who is looking after the baby, brings some grapes. Stella has told Blanche that she has made arrangements for her to rest in the country. She tells Eunice that she could not have continued to live with Stanley had she believed Blanche’s story (presumably about the rape). It transpires that Blanche has lost her mental balance, and she thinks she is going to stay with Shep Huntleigh. Blanche appears in a red stain robe, and Eunice tells her she looks good, as Stella has told her to. Eunice continues to humor her. Mitch is upset by Blanche’s presence and refuses to look at her, while Blanche is confused and says she is anxious to get away from there. Stella makes her sit in a chair, where Blanche makes rambling comments that combine thoughts of death, reminiscences of her first lover, and images of the ocean.
A doctor and nurse arrive from the state mental institution. When Blanche hears she has a visitor, she assumes it is Shep, but wonders who the woman with him might be. When Blanche sees the doctor, she exclaims that he is not who she was expecting. She rushes back into the bedroom in a panic. The nurse goes to fetch her. Blanche screams and tries to get past her. There is a struggle as Blanche tries to scratch the nurse, but the nurse pinions her arms. Mitch goes toward the bedroom but Stanley blocks his path. Mitch aims a punch at Stanley, who pushes him away. Mitch collapses, sobbing. Meanwhile, Stella is extremely upset at what is going on, and wonders what she has done to her sister.
Finally, the doctor speaks softly to Blanche, takes her arm and leads her away. Blanche accepts his help, although she has no idea of who he is. Stella sobs in great distress, while Stanley tries to comfort her.
The tragedy of Blanche is now complete. Like so many characters in Tennessee Williams’s plays, she is a sensitive woman who even in her degradation retains a core of innocence about her, but who is crushed by a world that is harsher and more ruthless than she can cope with. The description in the stage directions of her “sorrowful perplexity as though all human experience shows on her face,” almost seems to make her a martyr for all the suffering endured by those who seek but cannot find what they need no matter how hard they look.
Ironic use of robe in the old Madonna figures. It recalls her mention earlier that she was born under the astrological sign of Virgo, the Virgin. reinforced by her comments about the cathedral bells as the only clean thing in the Quarter. As she sinks in mental breakdown, she still clings to these images of purity, innocence, and even holiness. Since the beginning of the play she has been trying to wash herself clean, and the allusions to the Virgin show that she longs for a purity that perhaps in her heart she still believes is attainable. The only way out for her now, the final shield against the world, is madness, which will keep reality at bay forever.