The play takes place right after World War II, in New Orleans.
The Kowalski apartment is in a poor but charming neighborhood in the French Quarter. Stella, twenty-five years old and pregnant, lives with her blue collar husband Stanley Kowalski. It is summertime, and the heat is oppressive. Blanche Dubois, Stella's older sister, arrives unexpectedly, carrying all that she owns. Blanch and Stella have a warm reunion, but Blanch has some bad news: Belle Reve, the family mansion, has been lost. Blanche stayed behind to care for their dying family while Stella left to make a new life for herself, and Blanche is resentful. Blanche meets Stanley for the first time, and immediately she feels uncomfortable. We learn that Blanche was once married, when she was very young, but the boy died.
The situation grows more and more tense. Stanley initially distrusts Blanche, thinking that she's swindled them; the idea is ludicrous, and eventually Stanley realizes that Blanche is hardly the swindling type.
But the animosity between the two never stops. Blanche takes long baths, criticizes the squalor of the apartment, and irritates Stanley. Stanley's roughness bothers Blanche; he makes no effort to be gentle with her. One night, the night when Stanley hosts a poker game, he gets too drunk and beats Stella. The women go up to their upstairs neighbors' apartment, but soon Stella returns to Stanley, the two coupling with an animal-like need. Blanche is shocked by these events. That night, she also meets Mitch, and there is an immediate mutual attraction between the two.
The next day, Stanley overhears Blanche saying terrible things about him. From that time on, he devotes himself fully to her destruction. Blanche has a shady past in Laurel. In her loneliness, during the...