Blanche DuBois arrives to visit her sister, Mrs. Stella Kowalski, who lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She is shocked by the disreputable looks of the place. While a neighbor goes to find Stella, Blanche looks around the apartment for a drink. When her sister comes, Blanche quite frankly criticizes the place. She explains that she has come for a visit because her nerves are shattered from teaching. Noticing that the apartment has only two rooms, she has qualms about staying but she tells Stella that she can't stand being alone.
She explains to Stella that their old ancestral home, Belle Reve, has been lost. While Stella goes to the bathroom, Stanley, her husband, enters and meets Blanche. He questions her about her past and especially about her earlier marriage, which upsets Blanche to the point that she feels sick.
The following night Stella and Blanche plan to have dinner out and go to a movie while Stanley plays poker with his friends. But before they leave, Stanley wants to know how Belle Reve was lost. Blanche tries to explain and gives him all the papers and documents pertaining to the place. Later that night when Blanche and Stella return from their movie, the men are still playing poker. Blanche meets Mitch, one of Stanley's friends, who seems to be more sensitive than the others. While Mitch is in the second room talking to Blanche, Stanley becomes angry over a series of incidents, especially when Blanche turns on the radio. He throws the radio out the window, hits Stella when she tries to stop him, and has to be held by the other men to be kept from doing more damage. Blanche takes Stella and runs upstairs. When Stanley recovers, he calls for Stella to come down and she does.
The next morning, Blanche goes to Stella and tries to make her see that Stanley is an animal. She is shocked that Stella could have returned to him. But Stella assures her that Stanley was gentle when she returned and that she loves him. As Blanche begins describing Stanley, he comes in and overhears the conversation but doesn't say a thing.
Some time later, Blanche is dressing for a date with Mitch. She tells Stella that she wants Mitch because she is so tired of struggling against the world. Stella assures her it will happen. She leaves with Stanley to go bowling; just before Mitch arrives, a paper boy comes by and Blanche detains him long enough to kiss him because he reminds her of her young husband. When Blanche and Mitch return from their date, Blanche explains to Mitch how much Stanley apparently hates her. She thinks that Stanley will be her destroyer. She tells Mitch about her past life, how once she was married to a young boy whom she later discovered with an older man. Later that night, her young husband killed himself as a result of a harsh remark that Blanche made to him. Mitch tells Blanche that they both need each other.
It is later in mid-September. Stella is preparing a birthday cake for Blanche. Stanley comes home and tells Stella that he now has the lowdown on Blanche. It seems that she lived such a wild life in Laurel that she was asked to leave the town. Even the army had referred to Blanche as being out-of-bounds. Stanley then tells her that Mitch won't be coming over and that Blanche will leave Tuesday on a Greyhound bus. Later that evening Blanche cannot understand why Mitch does not come. After a scene between Stanley and Stella, Stanley gives Blanche her birthday present — a ticket back to Laurel, Mississippi. As Stanley is about to leave, Stella has her first labor pains and has to be taken to the hospital.
Mitch arrives later that evening. Blanche has been drinking rather heavily. He confronts her with her past life. At first she tries to deny it, but then she confesses that after the death of her young husband, nothing but intimacies with strangers seemed to have any meaning for her. Mitch then tries to get her to sleep with him, and Blanche demands marriage. Mitch tells her she is not good enough, and Blanche screams fire so as to make Mitch leave.
Later that night, Stanley returns from the hospital to find Blanche dressed in an old faded evening dress. He tells her that the baby won't come before morning. She is frightened to stay with him, especially when he begins confronting her with all the lies she has told. As she tries to move around him, he decides that she wouldn't be too bad to interfere with. After a scuffle, he rapes her.
Three weeks later, Stella is packing Blanche's clothes and waiting for a doctor and an attendant to come and take her to the state mental institution. Stella refuses to believe Blanche's story that Stanley raped her. Blanche thinks that an old boy friend is coming to take her on a cruise. When the attendant arrives, she doesn't recognize him and tries to run away. Stanley and an assistant trap Blanche. The doctor approaches and Blanche is quite willing to go with him, having always depended on the kindness of strangers.