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Blanche DuBois arrives in New Orleans by train, and follows a sailor's directions to take a streetcar named "Desire" to her sister Stella Kowalski's apartment at Elysian Fields in the French Quarter. Blanche, an aging Southern belle, is horrified by the dilapidated building in which her sister lives with her husband Stanley, but is delighted to reunite with Stella, whom she feels abandoned her after their father's death. Blanche explains that she was given a leave of absence from her teaching job because she had become a little "lunatic," and now makes herself at home in the cramped apartment, which affords little privacy. Blanche is immediately offended by Stanley's coarse manners, and he is infuriated when he learns that Blanche has lost the family home at Belle Reve. Stanley rants about the "Napoleonic code," which he claims decrees that what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband. Unimpressed by Blanche's genteel manners, Stanley reveals that his wife is pregnant, and at his insistence, Blanche reluctantly digs out the papers which document the many unpaid loans written against the Belle Reve estate. That night, Stanley's poker game runs late, and when Stella and Blanche return from an outing together, Blanche meets Stanley's best friend Mitch, a bachelor who looks after his sick mother. Blanche turns on the radio and dances by herself, but Stanley is distracted by the music and flies into a drunken rage, during which he beats Stella. Stella and her terrified sister run up to their neighbor Eunice's apartment, but later, when Stanley calls up to her in remorse, Stella is drawn back to her husband and makes up with him. Blanche, horrified by Stanley's brutality, lingers in the street with Mitch. The next day, Stanley overhears Blanche encourage Stella to leave Stanley, whom she calls an "animal" and "subhuman," but she is unable to shake Stella's devotion to her husband. Stanley reveals that he has heard some unsavory gossip about Blanche, and his apparent secret knowledge unnerves her. That night, Blanche and Mitch go out on a date, and she resists his amorous advances by telling him that she is old-fashioned. After avoiding Mitch's questions about her age, she reveals that she drove her first young husband to suicide by mercilessly demeaning him because their marriage was not consummated. She then accepts Mitch's kiss. Five months later, when Mitch reveals his plans to marry Blanche, he and Stanley fight after Stanley tells him about her sordid past. Stanley then tells Stella that he has learned that Blanche was fired for seducing a seventeen-year-old student, and that she has a notorious reputation. Mitch stands up Blanche on her birthday and refuses to take her calls. When Stanley tells Blanche that she has overstayed her welcome, she insults him by calling him a "Polack." Stanley defends his Polish heritage, and then gives her a birthday gift of a one-way bus ticket home. Blanche then becomes hysterical and shuts herself in the bathroom. Stella and Stanley start to fight, but she goes into labor and Stanley takes her to the hospital. Later, Mitch comes to see Blanche, who is hearing music in her head, and calls her a hypocrite. Blanche truly loves Mitch, but admits that she has had "many meetings with men." Mitch forces a kiss on Blanche, but breaks their engagement and is run out of the apartment by her. She then dresses up as if she were attending a ball, and when Stanley returns home, claims that Mitch has apologized and that she has received an invitation to a cruise. Stanley accuses Blanche of lying and assaults her. When Stella returns home with her baby, she finds that Blanche has gone insane and now lives under the delusion that she is going on a Caribbean cruise. Stella has reluctantly arranged for her sister to be sent to a sanatorium, but when the doctor and matron arrive, Blanche goes completely berserk. Mitch attacks Stanley, who vows that he never touched Blanche. Blanche finally calms down, and is touched by the doctor's gentlemanly manner, telling him that she has "always depended on the kindness of strangers." After they leave, Stella rebuffs Stanley and runs to Eunice's apartment with her baby, vowing never to return.