Scene Five of A Streetcar Named Desire begins with a bit of fleeting optimism. Blanche DuBois is writing a letter to a wealthy male acquaintance, hoping to sweet talk her way into some form of financial security.
She reads a draft of the letter to her sister, Stella; however, the women are interrupted by violent shouting upstairs. Eunice and Steve Hubbell, the neighbors who live in the apartment above, battle each other -- presumably over Steve's infidelity. The noise escalates from loud insults to the sounds of dishes and furniture smashing against the walls. Eunice escapes the apartment, threatening to summon the police. Instead, she races around the corner and goes into a bar.
Our brutish yet attractive antagonist, Stanley Kowalski enters the scene. Blanche tries to make small talk about astrology. When she mentions that she is a Virgo (aka "virgin"), Stanley laughs contemptuously. He claims to have met an old friend of hers, a man named Shaw who used to meet her at an ill-reputed hotel in her hometown of Laurel.
Blanche denies the allegation, but since the stage directions indicate her growing sense of fear, readers/audiences will sense that there might be something lascivious about Blanche DuBois and her past.
Then, who should return, arm in arm from the local bar: Eunice and Steve. She sobs "luxuriously" while he is "cooing love-words." Playwright Tennessee Williams once again demonstrates the abhorrent pattern of domestic abuse followed by an emotional "make-up" period. Actors playing Stanley Kowalski might play this scene differently (the stage directions do not indicate whether or not Stanley notices the couple as they return to their upstairs home). However, in the film version of Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando's Stanley gives the Steve and Eunice an approving smile, as if fighting, blubbering, and subsequent love-making were signs of a healthy marriage.
Stanley leaves the apartment, expecting Stella to meet him at the Four Deuces bar. He doesn't want to kiss Stella in front of Blanche, once again showing his animosity towards Stella's sister. As soon as Stanley leaves, Blanche asks if Stella has heard any rumors from Laurel. Blanche then goes into an almost confessional monologue in which she admits that she has not been "good" in the last two years.
BLANCHE: When people are soft - soft people have got to court the favor of hard ones, Stella. Have got to be seductive - put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings, and glow - make a little - temporary magic just in order to pay for - one night's shelter! That's why I've been - not so awf'ly good lately. I've run for protection, Stella, from under one leaky roof to another leaky roof - because it was storm - all storm, and I was - caught in the center. (Pause.) People don't see you - men don't - don't even admit your existence unless they are making love to you.
In the above monologue, Blanche is trying to confide something upsetting and shameful. For the past two years (perhaps longer) it seems as though Blanche has been offering her body in exchange for temporary security (very temporary, it would seem). However, Stella refuses to pay attention because Blanche's words are too morbid. This exchange between them represents a significant moment; Stella is now beginning to detach emotionally from her sister. Blanche's problems are becoming too complex and disturbing to deal with. Like Blanche who seeks security from men, Stella will soon be siding more and more with her husband in subsequent scenes.
Instead of delving into her sister's emotional problems, Stella offers her a coke. Blanche accepts, hoping the drink will contain a shot of alcohol. When the coke spills over the glass, Blanche lets out a manic scream, again revealing her fragile mental state. Blanche explains away the scream by stating that she is just nervous about her date with Mitch that evening. Blanche views the affable, soft-spoken Mitch as one of her last chances at security. Stanley calls from the street, and Stella runs to him after giving her sister a quick kiss and reassuring her that the date will go well.
Blanche is alone in the apartment, listening to the sounds of the dysfunctional lovebirds, Eunice and Steve. Then, a young man knocks at the door. He is collecting money for the local newspaper (The Evening Star -- in case there are trivia buffs reading this).
Blanche flirts with the teen, comparing him to a "young Prince out of the Arabian Nights." Then, she kisses the young man. She says, "Now run along, now, quickly! It would be nice to keep you, but I've got to be good - and keep my hands off children."
How should reader's interpret the above line? It could be viewed as something odd but ultimately harmless. Or, the kiss could indicate that Blanche has made these sexual advances toward younger men before. After all, she never explains why she stopped teaching high school English. This is probably not her first offense, further indicating her mental instability.
After the teen leaves, her date arrives. Mitch brings flowers and Blanche gaily accepts them, thus ending Scene Five of A Streetcar Named Desire.