A Streetcar Named Desire: Novel Summary: Scene 2
The following evening, Blanche and Stella are preparing to go out to dinner while the men play poker at home. Stella tells Stanley that they have lost Belle Reve, their plantation home in Mississippi. Stanley wants to know more, but Stella does not know any details. Stanley gets angry. He says that under the Napoleonic law of Loiusiana, anything that belongs to a wife also belongs to the husband, and he feels that he has probably been swindled. He goes to the bedroom and pulls out an armful of dresses from Blanche’s trunk, and says that Blanche could never have acquired such finery on a schoolteacher’s pay. He says he will get an expert to appraise the value of the clothes. Then he finds Blanche’s costume jewelry, and says he will get an expert to appraise that as well. Stella tells him he is being stupid and goes out to the porch.
When Blanche comes out of the bathroom she fishes for compliments from Stanley on her appearance, but he claims he does not give women compliments. Blanche tries to humor him. She knows that something is on Stanley’s mind, and she says she will tell him the truth. He explains about the Napoleonic code, and Blanche swears that she has never cheated anyone. Stanley starts to rifle through her trunk, looking for papers relating to Belle Reve. Blanche protests, and hands him a tin box in which she says she keeps most of her papers. He grabs some papers from the box but Blanche says they are love letters and demands them back. She snatches at them and they scatter on the floor. Distressed, Blanche gathers them up, saying they are letters from her dead husband. Stanley finds some papers relating to Belle Reve, and then Blanche explains that there are hundreds of such papers, going back hundreds of years, as her family squandered their wealth. Finally, all that was left was the house itself and twenty acres of land. She says Stanley can have all the papers. Stanley says he will have a lawyer examine them. He also reveals that Stella is pregnant, which Blanche does not know. When Stella returns, Blanche congratulates her and laughs off the unpleasant scene with Stanley.
The dramatic climax of this scene is the first clash between Blanche and Stanley. It is well prepared for in the dialogue between Stanley and Stella, which builds up the tension. Not for the last time, Blanche is soaking in the bathtub, oblivious to what is going on in the other room. When she comes out, she reveals a little more of her personality by flirting with Stanley. Stanley is quite aware of this, and says that if she were not his wife’s sister, he would get ideas about her. This foreshadows what takes place in scene 10. Blanche also reveals a self-knowledge that is perhaps surprising in a woman who appears to be vain and sets great store by her looks. She acknowledges that a “woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion.”