It is still later that night. Blanche has been drinking steadily since Mitch left. She has dressed herself in a white satin gown and her rhinestone tiara. She stares at herself in the mirror and flirts with imagined suitors. Examining herself more closely, she catches her breath and slams down the mirror. It shatters.
Blanche has been drinking to escape reality. She dresses herself in costume jewelry and gowns, but the only audience for her fantasy version of herself is herself. When she looks at herself more closely, though, even she can see through the illusion, and so she smashes the mirror, indicating the failure of her illusory world and also her nervous breakdown.
Stanley enters the apartment, slams the door, and gives a low whistle when he sees Blanche. Stanley is also drunk. He says that the baby won’t come until morning, so the doctors sent him home to get some sleep.
While Blanche has been drinking to escape her real self and the consequences of her past, Stanley’s drunkenness emphasizes his virility. This sort of contrast between Stanley and Blanche is common in the play—they do the same things: drink, act physically and sexually, but in Stanley these actions are seen as powerful and in Blanche they are seen as signs of weakness and degradedness.
Stanley asks Blanche why she is so dressed up. Blanche says that an admirer of hers, Shep Huntleigh, has invited her to come with him on a cruise of the Caribbean in his yacht. Stanley mildly expresses his excitement, as though half-listening. He takes off his shirt, and Blanche tells him to close the curtains, but Stanley says that that is all he will undress for the time being.
Stanley strings Blanche along like a cat toying with its prey: though he knows that she is lying, he lets her live in her delusions while he half-undresses.
Unable to find a bottle opener, Stanley pounds a beer bottle on the corner of the table and lets the foam pour over his head. He suggests that they both celebrate their good news. Blanche declines the drink, but Stanley stays in high spirits. To mark the special occasion, he pulls out his silk pyjamas he wore on his wedding night.
Stanley continues to humor Blanche. He knows her delusions are false, and he continues to hold her in suspense. The special silk pyjamas symbolize Stanley’s sexual prowess, but they also symbolize the purity of his wedding night with Stella.
Blanche continues to gush about Shep, exclaiming that he is a cultivated gentleman, as opposed to the “swine” she has been casting her pearls to. Stanley’s good humor suddenly disappears at the word “swine.”
When Blanche insults Stanley, he drops his good-natured veneer and exposes his violent, inner nature.
Blanche claims that Mitch had arrived that night with roses to beg her forgiveness. Stanley asks if Mitch came before or after the telegram, and Blanche is caught off guard. Stanley drops his affability and confronts Blanche, saying that he knows she has not received any telegram at all and that Mitch did not come by begging for forgiveness.
Stanley asserts his dominance cruelly over Blanche. Just as Mitch ripped the paper lantern off the bulb, Stanley tears off Blanche’s fabrications to reveal that he knows the truth.
Stanley mocks Blanche for dressing up in her glitzy attire, saying that he’s been on to her from the start: powders and perfumes and paper lanterns couldn’t fool him. Lurid, grotesque shadows and reflections on the wall surround Blanche.
Blanche usually cultivates shadows in the play, preferring to stay in half-darkness instead of facing the harsh light of reality. Now, however, the shadows are threatening.
Blanche wildly rushes into the kitchen to the telephone to call Shep Huntleigh, but since she doesn’t have his number, the operator hangs up on her. She then tries to telegraph Shep, saying that she is “caught in a trap,” but she breaks off when Stanley emerges from the bedroom in the silk pyjamas.
Blanche still tries to convince herself that she can escape, but her delusions of a male rescuer cannot save her from the reality of Stanley’s violent, overpowering, animal presence.
Stanley grins at Blanche and replaces the phone on the hook. He steps between Blanche and the door. Blanche, with mounting hysteria, tries to get by him, but he doesn’t let her.
Stanley approaches Blanche as though she is his prey and he the predator. Williams makes the scene appear jungle-like through lighting and symbolic language.
Stanley continues to advance toward Blanche. She smashes a bottle on the table and waves the broken end of the top at him. He springs toward her, overturning the table and grabbing her wrist. “Tiger––tiger!” he says. “Drop the bottle top! Drop it! We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!”
Stanley addresses Blanche in animalistic terms, drawing her under his domination and into his violent, physical world. He casts their encounter as fate, the necessary end to the primal struggle of their opposing forces.
The bottle top falls. Blanche sinks to her knees. Stanley picks up her limp body and carries her to the bed. A hot trumpet and drums swell in the background.
The fact that we don’t see the rape echoes classical Greek tragedy, in which the play’s most climactic and violent act happens offstage.