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How does Blanche’s speech present her struggle for identity?

Her sense of personal identity and very means of survival inextricably tied to her
sexual attractiveness, Blanche reveals in this monologue she is “fading” for lack of
male attention.

Blanche views her life as a “storm” she is “caught in the centre” of, and this is a
recurring theme in the play: that, caught shimmering helplessly in the eye of the
storm, she remains passive while life inflicts its tragedies upon her. A Southern belle
trapped in traditional gender roles, she runs “for protection” from one “leaky roof to
another”, always relying on men for “shelter” and validation. Every man has been
“leaky” and has let her down, but she cannot break the cycle; Blanche has no sense
of self and therefore an irrevocable dependence on men. When she corrects herself
in complaining that “people don’t see” her, to “men don’t” we see the extent of her
need for male attention to feel worthwhile.

Her promiscuity is shown as an extension of this, since the only time she feels a man
will “admit your existence” is during sex. If, as is alluded, Blanche turned to
prostitution, or “turn[ing] the trick”, this could, as well as being a means for survival,
have been an attempt at creating an identity for herself. For such a character, being
paid for “making love” would have felt very powerful. Her references to tricks and
“magic” also acknowledge her deception, of both others and herself. Every time
Blanche puts a “paper lantern over the light” she retreats further into fantasy.

Blanche begins her speech by telling Stella that she is a “soft” person, and therefore
has to “court the favour” of stronger men in order to survive. However, towards the
end, She laments that it is no longer “enough to be soft” because men desire women
who are “soft and attractive”, which she is no longer. This could imply a contradiction
to her earlier claims that her life choices were not her fault because there was no
other way such a naturally “soft” person could have survived. Instead, it seems
almost that she recognised early in life that to attract men, it was “enough” to be the
vulnerable, damsel in distress archetype. Now she is older, her “trick” is no longer
working, but having played the part for so long she is struggling to find her true
identity. When Blanche asserted her authority over Eunice and even Stanley in the
beginning of the play, and in her calculated manipulation of Mitch, she is seen to be
not as “soft” as she tries to appear. The clash between patriarchal society’s desire for
her ‘softness’ and her own internal ‘hardness’ would exacerbate her struggle and
contribute to her mental decline.