The Final Scene
The last passage has an extraordinary dramatic force. On the surface it is a scene of domestic activity; Stella packing Blanche’s trunk, Eunice gossiping, Blanche emerging from the bathroom. The group of poker players we see through the portieres in the kitchen, however, is ominously quiet, in deliberate contrast to their rowdiness in scene 3.
The audience are in ignorance of the meaning of the scene at first, like Blanche herself. There is complicity binding together Stella and Eunice and the players, all of whom know what is going to happen.
Blanche, though ignorant, of the situation becomes aware of the tension and is frightened. Her ‘Help me, help me get dressed!’ is a thinly disguised plea for help as she feels she is caught in a trap. The other two women chatter on, flattering Blanche, complimenting her on her outfit. This is very effective as a piece of theatre as the conventional small talk emphasises the underlying tension.
The talk succeeds in distracting Blanche a little. Like a true schoolmistress she offers information about the correct name for the shade of blue of her jacket. She remains on edge, however, and her unease finds expression in her impatient, rather off hand remarks to Eunice; ‘Washed, I said … that doesn’t mean they’ve been washed.’
Thinking of unwashed grapes starts her on an extraordinary flight of fancy of her death at sea, caused by eating an unwashed grape. She sees her own death in brilliantly clear colours, a pretty scene quite unlike that which she has repeatedly witnessed at Belle Reve. The sketch of the young ship’s doctor who will be by her side is strikingly detailed, idealized somewhat in the style of romantic fiction. He offers an ironic contrast to the real doctor from the mental hospital who will presently arrive to take her away. Perhaps this daydream of a pretty death with a handsome doctor beside her has prepared her to accept and trust the real doctor when he comes?
We notice also the emphasis on the purity of tone of the cathedral bells which are heard in the apartment for the first time now. The pure tone of the bell, the clean white sack in which she imagines herself buried at sea, both symbolise her longing for purification, for a cleansing from her sins, as did her frequent long baths. In the context, however, her dream of purity and of a peaceful death takes on an ironic meaning: the voyage she will undertake on the arm of the hospital doctor will take her to the harsh ugliness of a mental institution, an incarceration that will be a living death for her.
Her imaginary voyage set against the fast approaching reality gives the scene its painful tension. Throughout her speech she is answered by the unspoken thoughts of the other present in a dramatic counterpoint. This scene offers a splendid example of the dramatist’s skill.