It is 2:30 in the morning. The kitchen is lit up in “lurid nocturnal brilliance”: the light bulb is under a vivid green shade, the men are dressed in bright colors, and they are eating watermelon and drinking whiskey. The men deal out yet another hand of poker. Mitch worries that he should get home to his sick mother, and he rises and goes into the bathroom.
The artificially lurid, vivid kitchen in the middle of the night is somewhat sinister and hell-like. The card-playing and drinking amplifies the men’s animal natures. When Mitch worries about his mother, he goes into the bathroom, leaving the masculine space.
Stella and Blanche return, and Blanche powders her face before entering the apartment. Stella tries to make introductions, but the men barely look up. When Stella suggests that they stop playing for the night, Stanley slaps a hand on her thigh, and Stella, offended, goes into to the bedroom with Blanche.
When the women enter the apartment, they walk straight into the heart of the masculine space. Stanley asserts his dominance physically over Stella, and she and Blanche retreat to the shadowy, feminine bedroom space.
Blanche is about to take a bath when Mitch emerges from the bathroom. Mitch is sheepish and awkward, and Blanche looks at him with a “certain interest.” A bit later, she and Stella discuss the men as Blanche undresses strategically in silhouette. Blanche says that Mitch seems “superior to the others,” and Stella says that Stanley is the only one likely to move up in the world.
Blanche encounters Mitch under her terms, that is, in the half-light of the bedroom that hides reality. She sees that she can draw him in with her flirtation, and she views him as a potential suitor. Faithful Stella sets Stanley above the rest of the men in her estimation.
Stanley yells at Blanche and Stella to be quiet. Blanche turns on the radio, but Stanley turns it off and stalks back to the game. Mitch skips the next hand to go to the bathroom again, but Stella is in there, and as he waits he and Blanche begin to flirt. Both are a little drunk.
Stanley is upset that Blanche is demonstrating power in his house: he wants to dominate the entire space, but Blanche is creating her own gravitational pull.
Blanche and Mitch discuss his sick mother, and as they smoke Mitch’s cigarettes, Blanche reads the inscription on his cigarette case: a quotation from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet. Blanche claims to be younger than Stella, and she asks Mitch to hang a Chinese lantern over the naked electric bulb. Stanley, in the kitchen, seethes at Mitch’s absence from the game.
Blanche and Mitch have both lost their sweethearts, and the death of loved ones draws them together. Blanche hangs a paper lantern over the bare light bulb to create shadows and illusions that hide the reality of her real age.
As Stella comes out of the bathroom, Blanche turns the radio back on, and she and Mitch clumsily begin to dance. Stanley leaps from the table and throws the radio out the window. Stella yells at him, and he strikes her violently. The men rush forward and pull Stanley off Stella. Blanche shrieks hysterically, pulls out some of Stella’s clothes, and takes her sister upstairs to Eunice’s apartment.
Stanley breaks the harmony of the scene and throws everything into discord when he breaks the radio and shatters the music. Stanley violently asserts his aggression over Stella in an abusive demonstration of dominance. Blanche and Stella retreat into a safe female space.
The men force Stanley under the shower to sober him up, but as he continues to lash out at them, they grab their poker winnings and leave. Blues music plays from offstage. After a moment, Stanley emerges, soaked and repentant. He cries “Stella” over and over, his howls increasing each time in volume and desperation. Stanley stumbles outside, still dripping wet, and bellows, “STELL-LAHHHHH!” After a moment, Stella, disheveled, eyes red from crying, emerges from the upstairs flat. She and Stanley stare at each other. She slowly walks down the stairs to join him. He falls to his knees and presses his face to her belly, then picks her up and carries her into their apartment.
Unlike Blanche’s bathing, which serves as an escape from reality, Stanley’s shower brings him back to his sober self in the real world. His bellow is like a wounded animal roaring for his mate. Stella returns to him wordlessly, and the two embrace and make murmuring noises as they hold each other. Their relationship exists on a deep, primal level. Even though Stanley abuses his wife, and even though Blanch protects her, Stella chooses to come back to Stanley.
Blanche rushes downstairs, confused and frantic. Mitch appears and tells her not to worry, that this is just the nature of Stanley and Stella’s relationship. He offers her a cigarette, and she thanks him for his kindness.
Blanche tries to save Stella from Stanley, but Mitch tells her to let their relationship run its course. Blanche lets the moment with Mitch hint at intimacy.