It is an afternoon in mid-September. Stanley comes into the kitchen to find Stella decorating for Blanche’s birthday. Blanche is taking yet another bath to soothe her nerves, which Stanley mocks. Throughout the scene, Blanche’s singing of the popular song “Paper Moon” is heard in counterpoint to Stella and Stanley’s conversation.
The juxtaposition between Blanche’s bath and her birthday emphasizes that the desire to bathe not only marks Blanche’s desire for escape but also her desire for a Fountain of Youth. Blanche wants to hide behind a make-believe world rather than face reality. She wants the feminine magic of the moon, but as her song indicates that moon is paper and, by extension, can easily rip.
Stanley sits Stella down to tell her all the details he has heard about Blanche. Shaw, a supply man for his company who travels to Laurel frequently, has supplied Stanley with this information. Stanley tells Stella that Blanche was living at the disreputable Hotel Flamingo and had developed such a scandalous reputation that the hotel had kicked her out. Her home had even been declared off-limits to soldiers in the nearby military base.
Stanley’s revelations show both Blanche’s hypocrisies and Stanley’s cruelty in their ugliest lights. Stanley does not try to sympathize with Blanche, but instead relishes the most sordid, scandalous details. He enjoys asserting his power over her.
Stanley also reports that Blanche was not taking a leave of absence from school on account of her nerves, but that she had been fired after having an affair with a seventeen-year-old student.
Stanley’s revelation about Blanche’s affair with a minor makes her seduction of the paper-boy fit into the spiral of Blanche’s mental breakdown.
Stella is dazed. At first, she doesn’t believe Stanley, making the excuse that Blanche has always been “flighty.” She explains away some of Blanche’s psychological instability on account of her tragic marriage. Stella begins poking candles into the birthday cake, saying that she will stop at twenty-five. Mitch has been invited, she says, but Stanley tells her not to expect Mitch, claiming that he felt it was his duty to tell Mitch about Blanche. Stella is aghast, exclaiming that Blanche thought Mitch would marry her.
Stella remains loyal to Blanche despite Stanley’s stories. She doesn’t deny Blanche’s instability, but she doesn’t want to see all the ugly, physical details. As always, Stella is the mediator between Stanley and Blanche, the play’s emotional gravity. Stella is horrified that Mitch knows about Blanche not because she is thinking about her own reputation but because she is worried about how Blanche will feel and because she knows—perhaps always knew—that Mitch represented a last chance for Blanche.
Stanley says that he has bought a one-way bus ticket for Blanche to go back to Laurel. Then he bellows at Blanche to get out of the bathroom. Blanche enters the room in a gleeful state, but her mood quickly darkens as she feels the tension in the air, even when Stella says that nothing has happened. The piano offstage goes into a “hectic breakdown.”
Just as Stanley yells for Blanche to get out of the bathroom, he reveals the bus ticket that will take her out of the house for good, asserting his power over the household on both small and large scales.