From the beginning, the three main characters of Streetcar are in a state of tension. Williams establishes that the apartment is small and confining, the weather is hot and oppressive, and the characters have good reason to come into conflict. The South, old and new, is an important theme of the play. Blanche and her sister come from a dying world. The life and pretensions of their world are becoming a thing of memory: to drive home the point, the family mansion is called "Belle Reve," or Beautiful Dream. The old life may have been something beautiful, but it is gone forever. Yet Blanche clings to pretensions of aristocracy. She is now as poor as Stanley and Stella, but she cannot help but look down on the humble Kowalski apartment. Stanley tells her that she'll probably see him as "the unrefined type." The differences between them, however, are more complex and volatile than a matter of refinement.
Desire is central to the play. Blanche is unable to come to terms with the force of her own desire. She is clearly repelled and fascinated by Stanley at the same time. And though she stayed behind and took care of the family while Stella ran off to find a new life, Blanche is both angry and jealous of Stella's choice: she seems a bit fixated on the idea of Stella sleeping with her "Polack." Stella has chosen a life built around her powerful sexual relationship with Stanley. Blanche is both repulsed by and jealous of the choice. . The play is haunted by mortality. Desire and death and loneliness are played off against each other again and again. The setting is one of decay; the dying Old South and the dying DuBois family make for a macabre and unsettling background. Blanche's first monologue is a rather graphic description of tending to the terminally ill. There is also the specter of Blanche's husband, who died when they were both very young; indeed, Blanch still refers to him as a "boy."
Another symbol is the meat: Stanley enters carrying a package of bloody meat, like a hunter coming home from a day of work. Stanley is a superb specimen of primitive, unthinking, brutal man. The meat-tossing episode is seen as humorous by Eunice and the Negro Woman, who infer a sexual innuendo from the incident. Apparently, it is obvious to the neighbors that the sexual bond between Stanley and Stella is intense.
In their attitudes toward money, we see the tremendous difference in class between them. Stanley is convinced that he is being swindled, but after a moment it becomes clear that Blanche is capable of no such thing. She cares nothing for money; her class only understands how to spend it, and that is part of why Belle Reve was lost. When Stanley demands if it was lost on a mortgage, Blanche can only respond uncertainly, "That must have been what happened." She is completely ignorant on business matters. Stanley is no expert, but his basic approach is that of a new world, the real world in which Blanch is so unable to survive. Blanch has suffered terribly; we have only seen hints of it so far, but later we will learn more about the depths of her loneliness. Loneliness and desire are integral to Blanche's being. She chose the harsh road of staying at Belle Reve to care for the dying, and she has suffered because of it. For many years, she was a delicate young woman who lived alone in a house full of the terminally ill.
There is both honesty and illusion in her comments about the sincerity of the suffering. On one hand, Blanche is very insincere. She has dealt with her suffering by making-believe, by taking refuge in fanciful dreams about herself and her surroundings. She lies about her age. She also insists that Mitch cover the naked bulb. She does not want to be seen in the harshness of bright light. In darkness, she is free to fabricate and re-imagine whatever cannot be seen. On the other hand, there is something very sincere about...