"A Streetcar Named Desire": The Rape Scene

Violence Explodes in Scene 10 of this Popular Tennessee Williams Play

Marlon Brando in a scene from 'A Streetcar Named Desire'
Marlon Brando plays Stanley Kowalski in the movie version of 'A Streetcar Named Desire'.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Known by many as "The Rape Scene," scene 10 of "​A Streetcar Named Desire" is filled with dramatic action and fear inside the flat of Stanley Kowalski. Though the protagonist Blanche Dubois of Tennessee Williams' famous play attempts to talk her way out of an attack, a violent attack takes place.

Setting the Scene

By the time we get to Scene 10, it has been a rough night for protagonist Blanche Dubois.

  • Her sister's husband ruined her chances at love by spreading rumors (mostly true) about her.
  • Her boyfriend dumped her.
  • She is frightfully worried about her sister Stella who is at the hospital, about to deliver a baby.

To top it all off, Scene 10 of a Streetcar Named Desire finds Blanche wildly intoxicated and giving in to the delusions of grandeur that she's been touting throughout the play.

Synopsis of Scene 10 of "A Streetcar Named Desire"

As the scene begins, Blanche imagines, prompted by a combination of alcohol and mental instability, that she is hosting a high-class party, surrounded by amorous admirers.

Her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski enters the scene, interrupting her hallucination. The audience learns that he has just returned from the hospital: his and Stella's baby will not be delivered until the morning, so he plans to get some sleep before going back to the hospital. He too appears to have been drinking, and when he opens up a bottle of beer, spilling its contents over his arms and torso, he says, "Shall we bury the hatchet and make it a loving-cup?"

Blanche's dialogue makes it clear that she is terrified by his advances. She correctly perceives that his predatory nature is focused on her. To make herself seem powerful (or perhaps simply because her fragile mental state has made her delusional), Blanche tells a string of lies as Stanley invades her space in her bedroom.

She states that her old friend, an oil tycoon, has sent her a wired invitation to travel to the Caribbean. She also fabricates a story about her ex-boyfriend, Mitch, saying that he returned to beg forgiveness. However, according to her lie, she turned him away, believing that their backgrounds were too incompatible.

This is the final straw for Stanley. In the most explosive moment of the play, he declares:

STANLEY: There isn't a damn thing but imagination, and lies, and tricks! [ ... ] I've been on to you from the start. Not once did you pull the wool over my eyes.

After yelling at her, he goes into the bathroom and slams the door. The stage directions indicate that "lurid reflections appear on the wall around Blache," describing very specific actions and sounds that take place outside the apartment

  • A prostitute is chased by a drunk man, and a police officer eventually breaks up the fight
  • A Black woman picks up the prostitute's dropped purse
  • Several voices can be heard, "inhuman voices like cries in a jungle"

In a feeble attempt to call for help, Blanche picks up the phone and asks the operator to connect her with the oil tycoon, but of course, it is futile.

Stanley exits the bathroom, dressed in silk pajamas, which a previous line of dialogue revealed were the same ones he wore on his wedding night. Blanche's desperation becomes clear; she wants to get out. She goes into the bedroom, shutting the drapes behind her as if they could serve as a barricade. Stanley follows, openly admitting that he wants to "interfere" with her.

Blanche smashes a bottle and threatens to twist the broken glass into his face. This seems to only amuse and enrage Stanley further. He grabs her hand, twisting it behind her and then picks her up, carrying her to the bed. "We've had this date with each other from the beginning!" he says, in his final line of dialogue in the scene.

The stage directions call for a quick fade out, but the audience is well aware that Stanley Kowalski is about to rape Blanche DuBois.

Analysis of the Scene

The lurid theatricality of the scene, as depicted in the stage directions and the dialogue, serves to underline the trauma and horror of it. Throughout the play, there has been plenty of conflict between Blanche and Stanley; their personalities go together like oil and water. We've also seen Stanley's violent temper before, often symbolically tied to his sexuality. In some ways, his final line in the scene is almost an address to the audience as well: this has always been coming in the dramatic arc.

During the scene itself, the stage directions slowly build the tension, particularly in the moment where we hear and see bits and pieces of what's happening on the streets around the house. All of these disturbing events suggest how drunken violence and erratic passion are common in this setting, and they also reveal a truth that we already suspect: there's no safe escape for Blanche.

The scene is a breaking point for both Blanche (the protagonist) and Stanley (the antagonist). Blanche's mental state has been deteriorating throughout the play, and even before the assault that ends this scene, the stage directions give a heightened sense of theatricality (the shadows moving, the hallucinations) in order to give audiences an insight into her fragile, sensitive state of mind. As we'll soon learn, her rape at Stanley's hands is the final straw for her, and she spirals into freefall from this point onwards. Her tragic ending is inescapable.

For Stanley, this scene is the point where he fully crosses the line as a villain. He rapes her out of anger, out of pent-up sexual frustration, and as a way to assert his power. He's a complex villain, to be sure, but the scene is written and staged primarily from Blanche's point of view, so that we experience her fear and her sense of being closed in upon. It's a controversial and defining scene for one of the most famous plays in the American canon.

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Bradford, Wade. ""A Streetcar Named Desire": The Rape Scene." ThoughtCo, Jan. 13, 2021, thoughtco.com/a-streetcar-named-desire-rape-scene-2713694. Bradford, Wade. (2021, January 13). "A Streetcar Named Desire": The Rape Scene. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/a-streetcar-named-desire-rape-scene-2713694 Bradford, Wade. ""A Streetcar Named Desire": The Rape Scene." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/a-streetcar-named-desire-rape-scene-2713694 (accessed August 4, 2021).