This dramatic play written by Williams starts in the wretched outskirts of New Orleans, the author himself even remarks that the very atmosphere of this place shall inflict the feeling of being lost in a very spoiled place. A streetcar ironically named “Desire” delivers a woman in her forties, Blanche DuBois here. She went from the life amongst the upper crust of the society to her family bankruptcy, countless attempts and failures and death of her husband and how she hopes to get a temporary shelter in her sister’s place. Her sister named Stella refused to lead the aristocratic life and married off to a Polish immigrant Stanley Kowalski, who, despite his abusive and rude nature and alcohol dependence, is a passionate lover and a strong man. Stella feels herself fragile and feminine near him and this is why she married him.
Unlike her sister, Blanche still looks as a classy lady: she is in elegant white suit, wears white gloves and a hat, as if she is ready for a cocktail party. She is shocked and disappointed with the sight of a dirty and small apartment of the Kowalskis. At the very beginning, when she arrives into the apartment, we see a hint that Blanche is not that shiny inside as she looks. Right after the Kowalskis leave the flat (not before drunk Stanley threw a piece of meat to the table ordering his wife to make dinner, like a caveman - and she followed him with shiny puppy eyes asking if she can look at him playing bowling with friends) Blanche takes one of Stanley’s bottle with whiskey and drinks it.
When the Kowalskis return, Blanche tells her story. During the ten years that Stella lived separately, her sister had to fight for survival. Their family had to sell their big and beautiful house to pay for the debts, Blanche had an unlucky marriage and, after becoming a widow, had to work as an English teacher in the high school. Stella listens to this story with great sympathy but Stanley doesn’t believe her. He goes as far as accusing her for selling her house to buy her dresses, gloves and other stuff. Offended, Blanche shows him the papers that prove her story and tells that all her furs and jewellery, despite their beauty, are fakes and aren’t expensive at all. Though she still feels that Stanley is hostile to her, Blanche decides not to provoke conflict, especially when she learns that Stella is pregnant. The things get worse when Stella goes out for a while and it is clearly seen that Blanche attracts Stanley sexually.
Living in the new house, Blanche meets her new neighbors: Eunice and Steve from upstairs and Mitch, a toolmaker, quiet and calm man living with his sick mother. Mitch shares Stanley’s view on gender roles, but still has a softer nature, so he tries to clumsily court Blanche, showing her his attention. She is so unlike the women he knows: so fragile, defenseless, gentle and educated. She knows French, plays music and teaches literature. For Mitch she is an embodiment of being a lady. Blanche gladly plays this role, meeting with Mitch in romantic dim light (also concealing her real age from him) and refusing to sleep with him, hoping that Mitch will make her a proposal.
We see that it’s only a role clearly. When a courier boy delivers a newspaper to the Kowalski’s house, Blanche doesn’t tip him with coins but with a passionate kiss. When the shocked boy leaves, she puts up her modest look back and goes to the date with Mitch. With him Blanche is, nevertheless, more sincere than with anyone else. She tells him the true story of her marriage: her husband appeared to be gay, he married her only for status and money. After she saw him sleeping with another man in their home, she was disgusted and heartbroken. Mitch also tells her about his lost love and decides that they both need each other to comfort their wounded souls.
Meeting Mitch (and maybe the unlimited access to Stanley’s whiskey) is the only good thing that happened to Blanche in New Orleans. Stanley gathers his friends in the living room (Mitch amongst them) and they play poker, drink, smoke and argue, using the women as servants and screaming at them when Stella or Blanche interfere, stopping them from their doing their very serious manly poker business. Stella is used to obey and even finds some weird satisfaction in playing this role, but Blanche is not amused at all. She decides that her sister needs to be saved from this madhouse.
Mitch isn’t the only one who is interested in Blanche. Stanley already knows that she has quite a low opinion about him and even went as far as talking to Stella and advising her to leave him as an animal not worthy her love. Moreover, Blanche seems to have a plan: she offers Stella to contact her old friend, a billionaire named Shep Huntleigh, who will definitely help them both to get out of New Orleans. This, with his uncontrollable jealousy, leads to him breaking into Blanche’s bedroom when she is there talking to Mitch and thrashing it. Stella tries to defend her sister and yells at her husband but Stanley, blinded by anger, beats his pregnant wife. Blanche takes Stella and they retreat to Eunice’s apartment upstairs. After a while, Stanley, heavily drunk, goes upstairs and demands Stella to return to him. Blanche tries to protect her sister and not let her go but Stella replies that she sees her husband’s wild nature as something sexy, not scary. She indeed returns to Stanley and Blanche now meets with Mitch outside of the house.
Seeing that Stella is ready to disobey him for her sister, Stanley starts to investigate Blanche’s past, trying to find something that can be turned against her - and he finds a lot more than he could expect. After the death of her parents, Blanche married a man who just used her for money (we know that story already). After he was dead also the young widow indulged herself with many men in the place called Flamingo Hotel. Moreover, she didn’t quit her job, she was fired with a great scandal after sleeping with one of her students. Happy with what he found Stanley prepares a revenge plan.
He waits for Blanche’s birthday. The woman invited Mitch - he is ready to make a proposal to her finally. Blanche is in the bathroom preparing for the party - but suddenly Stanley in the room says to Stella with cruel smile that Mitch won’t come, because now he knows that his lady in white is just a hotel whore. Stanley himself told him everything in vivid detail. Stella is shocked by her husband’s cruelty - the marriage could literally save her sister’s life!
Leaving the bathroom Blanche wonders about Mitch. Not knowing about what happened she tries to call him but no one comes to the phone. Blanche is lost, but then Stanley delivers a final blow - his birthday present is a ticket to Laurel, the city where she came from. Stella can’t bear it anymore: from all the stress she just had, she goes into labor prematurely and Stanley rushes to the hospital with her. Now Blanche is alone and Mitch finally comes. She tries to talk to him, but Mitch ruthlessly tells her that she lied him about everything: her age, her past, her chastity. He conducted his own investigation, hoping that Stanley lied to him, but everything his friend told him is true.
Blanche doesn’t deny anything: indeed she went from the one man to another after the death of her husband, seeking comfort in the arms of strangers. But it was before she met Mitch. She didn’t tell him anything because he won’t even look at her, but now she loves him and wants to be with him, forgiven for her past. But Mitch doesn’t want to hear any of her confessions. He also doesn’t want to marry Blanche anymore. Now he wants only her body - if she slept with the many others why doesn’t she sleep with him now? Blanche, offended, immediately drives him away and Mitch indeed has enough dignity to leave without touching her.
When Stanley returns from the hospital, leaving Stella there, Blanche is drunk to almost unconscious state. Her thoughts are scattered. She talks to herself, saying that she is waiting for her billionaire to take her away from here to the sea. Stanley is in a good mood when he enters the apartment - he will soon have his baby born. But listening to Blanche’s words he becomes more and more furious. When Blanche adds that she has just met Mitch who came with flowers to apologize and reconcile, Stanley blows up. He confronts Blanche with all she says and all she did in her previous life, accusing her of being only a whore, not worthy flowers or the sea. He starts to advance towards Blanche, the frightened woman tries to escape him, but Stanley catches her near the door and takes upstairs, raping her in the bedroom, satisfying both his desire to have sex with her and to show his power and punish Blanche.
When Stella finally returns from the hospital with the baby in her arms, she sees that Blanche has gone completely insane. Stanley suggests that they shall put her into the mental asylum. Blanche tries to tell her sister that Stanley raped her, but Stella denies her words entirely. Later, packing with Eunice Blanche’s baggage, Stella confesses to her neighbor that he just can’t afford to believe Blanche’s words going into willing disbelief to preserve her marriage and her further life with her husband.
The doctor and the nurse come into the Kowalski’s apartment and try to take Blanche away, but she, so happy and serene before, waiting for her friend to take her to the sea in her best gown, gloves and all, suddenly tries to set herself free, screaming in terror. It seems that for a moment Blanche comes to her senses, understanding her miserable future in the asylum. But then the doctor approaches, giving to her his hand as a gentleman and asking the lady to follow him. His manners and kind voice make Blanche to happily smile again. She understands that he isn’t her friendly billionaire, but it doesn’t matter anymore until he is kind and treats her as a lady. Blanche goes out of the apartment, softly saying to the doctor that it’s okay that he is not she waited for. She is used to seek comfort in the arms of strangers.