A Streetcar Named Desire: Scene Notes – Scene 8


        Stanley, Stella and Blanche are at home having a what has become “a dismal birthday supper”. for Blanche. Mitch, although expected has not arrived.

        The mood is somber, and to attempt to lighten it Blanche attempts to tell a ‘funny story’ about a parrot and a preacher. It is apparent that Stanley is not amused and when Stella and Blanche join together in insulting him, Stanley throws his plate to the floor to reassert his control over the two other characters shouting that “Every Man is a King! and I’m the king around here.” (pg.195).

        Blanche attempts to call Mitch but is unable to get through so she leaves a number hoping he will call back. The next time the phone rings, it is for Stanley and he gloats at Blanche while talking to his friends.

        Stanley tries to comfort Stella as she cries - He tells her “It’s gonna be all right again” (pg.196) after Blanche leaves and, after a further argument Stanley gives her a ‘Birthday Remembrance’ which is in fact a ticket on the Greyhound bus back to Laurel

        Blanche bolts out of the room as Stanley gets ready to go bowling. Stella begins to argue with him at which point Stella appears to go into labour and asks Stanley to take her to the hospital.

        Blanche Blanche is left alone, and the scene ends in fading light, the ‘Varsouviana’ playing with “sinister rapidity”, and Blanche whispers the words “El pan de mais, el pan de mais, El pan de mais sin sal” over and over. These nonsense words (corn bread, corn bread, unsalted corn bread) show signs of her impending insanity.




Conflict – Blanche vs Stanley

Regarding Blanche’s desire to hear a funny anecdote, Stanley says that he “don’t know any refined enough for [her] taste” (pg.193). Stanley is simply refusing to comply in order to try and upset Blanche. There is a sense that he is mocking Blanche’s ‘upper-class’ background and this reflects the conflict between the two classes which they represent. This scene displays less conflict between the two characters, and more simple spite from Stanley. For instance he “pays no attention to the story” (pg.194). This act of rudeness shows Stanley’s contempt for Blanche and thus the animosity between them. In addition to representing the conflict that exists at a basic level between these two characters, Blanche and Stanley’s hostile relationship also reflects the conflict between the fading upper classes of the American elite and the burgeoning, urban, immigrant working class who are replacing them as the driving force behind America.


Conflict – Male vs Female

(pg.194) “Mr. Kowalski is too busy making a pig of himself to think of anything else!” Stella tries to assert some power over Stanley while agreeing with her sister. Stella does this again in the next line “Your face and fingers are disgustingly greasy. Go and wash up and then help me clear the table.” where she tries to establish a sense of power over her husband by commanding him to follow her instructions. This undermines Stanley status as the dominant figure in the house and here we Stella at her most assertive, which creates tension between the two, a tension which this time echoes not a tension between the classes but a tension between the genders.


(pg.194) [He hurls a plate to the floor.] “That’s how I’ll clear the table!” [He seizes her arm.] Don’t ever talk that way to me!” Stanley, being the dominant powerful male quickly reasserts himself against his wife reflecting the stereotypical balance of power in a working class husband and wife relationship. This is reinforced when Stanely says (pg.195) “Remember what Huey Long said - ‘Every Man is a King!’ And I am the king around here, so don’t forget it!”. The conflict between men and women is based on this simple structure - that men have the need to be powerful over women, although some women strive to be more powerful.


(pg. 197) After his violent smashing of the plates Stanley’s control seems to have been firmly re-established. When the phone rings he prevents Blanche from answering it by saying “I’m not sure. Keep your seat.” In addition, during the conversation he is smug and when he says (pg.197) “QUIET IN THERE! - We’ve got a noisy woman on the place.” Stanley is revelling in his freshly reconquered dominance. He shouts at Blanche from the phone and exaggerates the noise level she is making in his comment to Mac. This is a tool to help him illustrate his power over the women in the household.


Stanley’s confidence and strength is finally demonstrated on (pg.198) when ‘[He crosses into the bedroom, ripping off his shirt, and changes into a brilliant silk bowling shirt. {and Stella} follows him.] Here, Stanley asserts his power by doing as he pleases even though Stella tries to stop him when she says (pg.198) “You’re not going bowling”.


Loneliness & Longing for love

The theme of loneliness is made apparent at the start of the scene, where “there is a fourth place at the table which is left vacant” (page 193). This place was obviously set for Mitch, and his absence upsets Blanche greatly. When she calls and fails to reach Mitch, the idea of loneliness is further reinforced. This is made even more apparent, when the subsequent phone call is not once from Mitch but actually for Stanley, then his ‘present’ of a ticket back to Laurel – all of this makes Blanche feel even lonelier and more unwelcome. Blanche is left alone with only her insanity to accompany her at the end of the scene, really hammering this point home.


The Destructive nature of Desire, Sex & Passion

This is something which Stanley and Stella’s relationship is built upon. Stanley reminisces about “them nights [he and Stella] had together” and making “noise in the night the way that [they] used to and get the coloured lights going” (pg.196). Stanley longs for Stella in this way and Blanche’s presence makes this impossible, possibly feeding his desire to get rid of her, asking “wasn’t it all okay till she showed here?” (pg.199)




Inside / Outside

·         In this scene, Blanche remains inside, where Stanley is able to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Blanche remaining inside is significant because it reflects the idea of entrapment – that she is somehow trapped in the apartment (she only ever leaves the apartment accompanied). It also places Stanley in a position of dominance as he is able to go inside and outside of the house at will.



·         (pg.194) [Blanche throws back her head and laughs.] after her funny story about the Pastor and the Parrot. Blanche is the only one who is laughing, and while this joke essentially represents her desperation to maintain the illusion that everything is alright and Mitch might be arriving any second, the way she laughs by throwing her head back, carries with it an air of insanity.

·         (pg.198) [Blanche tries to smile. Then she tries to laugh. Then she gives both up and springs from the table and runs into the next room. She clutches her throat and then runs into the bathroom. Coughing, gagging sounds are heard.] Her inability to know what to do suggests that she is overwhelmed by what has happened, almost to the point of insanity as she tries to do many contradicting things at once and is unable to control herself.

·         [Pg 199] [Blanche comes out twisting a wash-cloth. She begins to whisper the words as the light fades slowly.] “El pan de mais, El pan de mais, El pan de mais sin sal.” This is the most obvious section where Blanche’s actions suggest insanity.



·         Blanche says that “candles aren’t safe, that candles burn out in little boys’ and girls’ eyes, or wind blows them out and after that happens, electric light bulbs go on and you see too plainly…” (page 196). This is a reflection upon her life – her distaste for electric light bulbs (harsher more penetrating light) reflects her active avoidance of the truth. She prefers the softer light of candles as this allows more room for ‘magic’ and romance. This may also be interpreted as a warning about candles which may be a metaphor for the message that fantasy and dreams are dangerous as after they are taken away, the harsh light of realism reveals the ugly truth of reality. This is directly linked to the theme of ‘Pleasant Dreams vs. Ugly Reality’

·         (pg.196) “… The way that we used to get the colored lights going…” Stanley is speaking to Stella, trying to persuade her that things gonna be all right again” after Blanche leaves. There are sexual connotations to his reference of “colored lights” as he also mentions “Them nights we had together”. One interpretation of this is that lights, when related to Stanley, are associated with more positive images such as vibrancy, life and excitement in contrast to Blanches’ association of lights with the idea of a stark and harsh reality.



·         (pg.194)[He hurls his plate to the floor] This is an act to express power, strength and control. Here, Stanley asserts his control over Stella and provokes fear from Blanche.

·         (pg.194) [He seizes her arm.] “Don’t ever talk that way to me!” Again, Stanley uses physical violence/strength to assert power and authority over the women, namely Stella. Through this motif, we see how males use physical acts, usually of violence and strength, to attempt to declare power and supremacy over the women.




At this point in the play, the characters are merely fulfilling the roles which they have already been assigned. We do not discover much that is new or unexpected about any of them. The only clear diversion from their previous roles is where Stella attempts (ineffectually) to assert herself over Stanley, ordering him to “go and wash up and then help [her] clear the table”



Stanley continues to be the strong, boastful, dominant male. He constantly has the need to be in power over all the other characters, male and female alike. This is shown when he criticises others, (pg.194) “What do you think you are? A pair of queens?”, so that he has the upper hand in the struggle for power. He fits into the stereotype where men do not tolerate the behaviour of assertive women. However, there is also another side to Stanley’s character. (pg.195) [Stanley turns slowly back towards his wife and takes her clumsily in his arms.] “Stell, it’s gonna be all right…” which suggests that he does care. Although, particularly in the light of his subsequent comments about making noise in the night this might suggest that he is only really interested in Stella as a means of fulfilling his sexual desires.



At points Stella attempts to establish some authority in this scene. For example on (pg.194) she says to Stanley “Your face and your fingers are disgustingly greasy. Go and wash up and then help me clear the table.” Here Stella orders Stanley to wash his hands and clear the table. However, her attempts to command Stanley are not successful and when Stanley physically threatens her (pg.195) [Stella begins to cry weakly.] Ultimately, her actions reinforce her position as the subservient and weak wife.



Blanche is seen to be a weaker character in this scene. In the beginning we sense her longing for love, her helplessness and vulnerability. On (pg.195) she says of Mitch “I’m going to call him!” which reveals her desperation for Mitch to come and her constant confusion. As a character, Blanche is first described as a moth, and moths flutter. One interpretation here is that she is fluttering and unable to stick with something solidly and despite her attempts to assert herself over Stanley she fails and is unable to gain either control or power. Instead she is trampled on by Stanley when he surprises her with the ticket back to Laurel, and she ends the scene a pathetic picture of insanity.



Relation of Part to Whole:

Scene 8 comes after Stanley reveals the truth about Blanche’s past and the reason she left Laurel to Stella and we learn that he has also taken the liberty to inform Mitch. The atmosphere in the scene is tense and Stanley is clearly doing his best to further antagonise the situation. Blanche tries to call Mitch but fails and this foreshadows their awkward meeting in the next scene. Scene 8 also provides further evidence for Blanche’s descent into insanity, and Stella goes into labour.