Scene 7 and 8
Time has passed, and it is now the fall. Stella is preparing the apartment for Blanche's birthday. Stanley arrives and tells Stella that he has learned the truth about Blanche. He has been checking her background, and has discovered that she is no lily-white virgin. Blanche lived at the Flamingo, a hotel known for not interfering with its guests activities, but she was kicked out just the same when all of Laurel ran Blanche out of town on a rail for her own epic fornications. She didn't resign from the school but was fired before the term ended, because she had been dallying with a seventeen-year-old boy.
Stella doesn't believe the stories and thinks people have been telling lies. Stanley tells her they needn't expect Mitch to be coming over for birthday cake that evening – as a good friend, Stanley felt obligated to tell Mitch what he'd learned. Mitch is no longer going to marry her. And Stanley reveals that he bought a bus ticket to send Blanche back to Laurel on Tuesday.
Blanche emerges from the bathroom and sees from the looks on the Kowalskis' faces that something has happened, but neither will tell her what.
Forty-five minutes later, a dismal birthday party is wrapping up. Blanche has been stood up by Mitch. Blanche feebly tells a joke, and it falls flat. Stella criticizes Stanley's table manners, and he loses his temper, shouting that Stella has been showing him too much disrespect and calling him too many names since her sister got there. He stalks out.
Blanche tries to get Stella to tell her what happened while she was bathing, but Stella refuses. Blanche telephones Mitch, against Stella's protestations, and leaves a message. Stanley returns and embraces Stella, saying everything will be alright once Blanche has left and they can have privacy again.
Blanche hangs up the phone and watches Stella putting candles in the birthday cake, and tells her she should save them for the baby's birthdays. Stanley offers her a birthday present – a bus ticket back to Laurel. Blanche tries to smile, but cannot, and runs to the bathroom to gag.
Stella is upset at Stanley for being unnecessarily cruel – everyone has been cruel to Blanche since she was a girl, and that's what changed her. Stanley speaks of how Stella thought he was common when they met, but he pulled her out of her plantation dreams and into the dirt with him, and they were so happy until Blanche arrived. But Stella has stopped listening – the baby is coming. They leave for the hospital.
Scene 7 is largely functional, setting in motion the action of the remainder of the play. Now all the cards are finally out on the table. The audience knows the full back story, and need only sit back and watch how it unfolds. All in all, scene 7 serves as a triggering incident for the third act of the play (in the original performance, there were intermissions after scenes 4 and 6), while further developing Stella's crumbling trust of her sister and Stanley's need to protect his wife and his friend above all else.
By keeping Blanche out of this denouement, Williams heightens the suspense of the succeeding scene. Everyone knows the truth about Blanche now – the Kowalskis, Mitch, Blanche, the audience – and all that remains is for Blanche to know that they know. In a play like Streetcar where much of the action has occurred off-stage in the past, it is an effective dramatic device to have the audience know more information than the protagonist. This device camouflages a lack of action and lends a drumming inevitability to the succeeding scenes, while elevating the meaning of everyone's actions – we know what they're thinking, and we are just as tense about it as they are. It is a technique well represented in Williams' plays, especially the ones with dead gay men (Streetcar, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, etc).
Blanche spends scene 7 in yet another one of her long baths. She says they keep her cool, but the baths are also symbolic of a fruitless attempt to wash guilt and disgust off herself. Think of Lady Macbeth's "out out damn spot" scene. For Blanche the baths are a ritual purification - and Stanley's constant interruptions of her bathing are representative of his rejection of her attempts to purify.
At the end of Scene 7 something broke, and Blanche could feel it. She sees the result immediately in Scene 8, when Mitch doesn't come to her birthday party. His absence is felt deeply by all involved, an elephantine black hole in the room. Blanche knows what has happened but cannot bring herself to acknowledge it – she telephones Mitch and worries that something has happened to him, but she knows she has been stood up. She uses the age-old technique of chattering away to avoid the conversation that is about to happen, whether she likes it or not And when Stanley leaves the room and Blanche begins to question Stella, it is clear that she also knows why she has been stood up.
Despite Blanche's deception, and despite his insistence elsewhere that Blanche is not a hero, Williams pushes the audience's sympathies towards Blanche through this scene. Stanley is right about her, of course. But the way he handles the situation is abusive and manipulative, and Blanche is clearly made to be the victim. Stanley loses his remaining sympathy when he hands the bus ticket to Blanche, committing an act of that "deliberate cruelty," the only sin Blanche cannot forgive.
But Williams then gets Blanche off the stage – it is not necessary for us to see her rage and humiliation, because we can feel it in our gut – and returns Stanley to a level of humanity in his final solo interaction with his wife. He is raging about the good old days and about being the king of his castle, but the moment he sees that something's wrong with Stella, his bluster and venom melts away. The stage direction is powerful here: "He is with her now," Williams indicates. Stanley had been off on his tangent, off in his world, but when Stella needs him he is immediately with her, completely, and Blanche is forgotten.