Summary and Analysis
Stanley appears and calls for Stella, his wife, to catch a package of meat. He then goes bowling and Stella follows. Almost immediately, Blanche appears trying to find a certain street number. Eunice, the neighbor, sees that Blanche is confused and assures her that this is the place where Stella lives. Eunice lets Blanche into the apartment and goes after Stella. Immediately, Blanche finds a bottle of whiskey and gulps down a big swig.
When Stella arrives, Blanche blurts out how awful the apartment is but then tries to laugh off her comment. She asks for a drink in order to restore her nerves. Blanche then returns to the subject of the apartment, wondering how Stella could live in such a place. Stella tries to explain that New Orleans is different and that the apartment is not so bad. Blanche promises to say no more about it.
Blanche explains to Stella that she had to resign from her high school teaching position because of her nerves. It was so sudden that she wasn't able to let Stella know about it. Blanche notices that the apartment has only two rooms and she wonders where she will sleep. Stella shows her the folding bed and explains that Stanley won't mind the lack of privacy because he is Polish. And Stella warns Blanche that Stanley's friends are not the type Blanche is accustomed to.
Blanche emphasizes that she must stay for a while because she can't stand to be alone. This leads Blanche to tell Stella that Belle Reve, the ancestral home, has been lost. When Stella asks how it happened, Blanche reminds Stella how there has been a long line of deaths in the family and that she had to stay there and fight while Stella was "in bed with your — Polack." When Stella begins crying and goes to the bathroom, Blanche hears Stanley outside. Blanche introduces herself to him. Stanley takes off his shirt so as to be comfortable and offers Blanche a drink but Blanche says that she rarely touches it. Stanley asks Blanche if she wasn't once married. Blanche tells him yes, but the boy died; then, she leaves thinking that she is going to be sick.
The first part of this scene introduces us symbolically to the essential characteristics of Stanley Kowalski. He enters in a loud-colored bowling jacket and work clothes and is carrying "a red-stained package." He bellows to Stella and throws her the raw meat which she catches as she laughs breathlessly. The neighbors laugh over the package of bloody meat — an obvious sexual symbol which depicts Stanley in the same way as Blanche later describes him to Stella: He is a "survivor of the stone age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle; and you — you here — waiting for him." This scene, therefore, shows Stanley as the crude and uncouth man. The scene also sets a tone of commonplace brutality and reality into which the delicate and sensitive Blanche is about to appear.
Williams is overly fond of using Freudian sexual symbols. Readers should be aware of these and choose their own responses. Aside from the use of the raw meat, he uses the bowling balls and pins, and the columns of the Belle Reve plantation home as obvious, overt phallic and sexual symbols. The fact that Stanley bowls suggests symbolically his characteristic of summing everything up in terms of sexuality.
When Blanche says that she took a "streetcar named Desire, and then . . . one called Cemeteries," Williams seems to be implying that desire leads to death which is then an escape to the Elysian Fields. But ironically, in terms of the play, the streetcar leads her to the French Quarter which is certainly no Elysian Fields.
Notice that Blanche is described as wearing white and having a mothlike appearance. Williams often dresses his most degenerate characters in white, the symbol of purity. (For example, aside from Blanche, Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer are always dressed in white.) Blanche's dress hides her inner sins and contributes to her mothlike appearance. Her actions also suggest the fluttering of a delicate moth. And as a moth is often attracted by light and consequently killed by the heat, later we will see that Blanche is afraid of the light and when Mitch forces her under the light, this act begins Blanche's destruction.
Note the symbolic use of names throughout the play. Blanche DuBois means white of the woods. The white is a play on Blanche's supposed innocence and the woods are used as another Freudian phallic symbol. Stella's name means star. The name of the plantation home was Belle Reve or beautiful dream — thus the loss of Belle Reve is correlated with the loss of a beautiful dream that Blanche once possessed.
In the first meeting between Stella and Blanche, Blanche tells Stella to "turn that over-light off!" This is a first reference to Blanche's aversion to too much light. It correlates with her moth-like appearance and will later develop into one of the controlling motifs throughout the play. Her fear of light will be seen to be connected with the death of her first husband and her fear of being too closely examined in the cold, hard world of reality. She prefers, instead, the dim, illusionary world of semi-darkness.
A key to Blanche's character is given to us in this first scene by her reliance upon and need for whiskey. Then later when Stanley asks her if she wants a drink, she tells him that she rarely touches it. Here then is an example of Blanche's inability to tell the truth and her desire to be something different from what she actually is.
Blanche's emphasis that she can't be alone suggests that she is at a point of desperation at the opening of the play. She has absolutely no place to go and no one to turn to or else she would not be here in these surroundings. Her explanation of how Belle Reve was lost and her recounting her frequent encounters with death serve in some ways to account for Blanche's present neurotic state.
The reader should be especially aware of Williams' description of Stanley. "Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements." This is the opposite of the delicate and ethereal Blanche. Furthermore, the "center of his life has been pleasure with women." He is the "emblem of the gaudy seed-bearer." He takes pride in everything that is his. Thus part of the later conflict is that Blanche can never in any sense of the word be his. She lives in his house, eats his food, drinks his liquor, criticizes his life, and so forth, but she is never his.
Essentially, the play can be read as a series of encounters between the Kowalski world and the Blanche DuBois world. Each of these encounters will intensify with each subsequent meeting. The first encounter occurs at the end of Scene 1. The overly sensitive Blanche must introduce herself to Stanley, who immediately offers her a drink after he notices that the bottle has been touched. He takes off his shirt and makes a shady remark to Stella, who is in the bathroom. He then asks Blanche some pointed questions which end with an inquiry about her earlier marriage. By the end of the first encounter, Blanche is feeling sick. Thus, Stanley's rough, common, brutal questions end by hitting on the most sensitive aspect of Blanche's past life — her marriage with the young boy. Stanley's animalism almost destroys Blanche's sensibilities even in this first meeting. Thus the conflict is between the oversensitive aristocratic world of Blanche and the brutal, realistic, present-day world represented by Stanley.