Sweet Bird of Youth

by

Tennessee Williams

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The play’s protagonist, an aspiring actor who has been in love with the beautiful Heavenly Finley since he was a teenager. When he was growing up in St. Cloud, Chance planned to use his strapping good looks to become rich and famous, deciding that he deserved something more than the average middleclass life for which his friends were all destined. With this cocky self-assuredness, he started acting, which is when he fell in love with Heavenly. As high schoolers, their acting troupe traveled to a competition, and on the way back Chance and Heavenly made love on the train. Since then, Chance has wanted to marry Heavenly, but her domineering father, Boss Finley, has forbidden it, thinking Chance unworthy of his daughter’s love. As such, Chance has spent his twenties trying to become rich and famous so that he can return to St. Cloud and finally win Boss Finley’s approval. Unfortunately, though, he has been unsuccessful as an actor, forcing him to work as a gigolo and use his attractiveness to score money from rich women. In keeping with this, he has recently returned to St. Cloud with a famous actress, Alexandra Del Lago, whom he tries to blackmail into making him famous. By this point in his life, Chance’s hair is thinning, his good looks are fading, he drinks heavily and takes drugs, and he carries a sexually transmitted disease. Thus, he’s desperate to finally become famous before he’s too old to be successful in the entertainment industry.

Chance Wayne Quotes in Sweet Bird of Youth

The Sweet Bird of Youth quotes below are all either spoken by Chance Wayne or refer to Chance Wayne. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the New Directions edition of Sweet Bird of Youth published in 1959.
Act One, Scene One Quotes

SCUDDER: There’s a lot more to this which we feel ought not to be talked about to anyone, least of all to you, since you have turned into a criminal degenerate, the only right term for you, but, Chance, I think I ought to remind you that once long ago, the father of this girl wrote out a prescription for you, a sort of medical prescription, which is castration. You’d better think about that, that would deprive you of all you’ve got to get by on. […]

CHANCE: I’m used to that threat. I’m not going to leave St. Cloud without my girl.

Related Characters: Chance Wayne (speaker), Dr. George Scudder (speaker), Heavenly Finley, Boss Finley
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

For years they told me that it was ridiculous of me to feel that I couldn’t go back to the screen or the stage as a middle-aged woman. They told me I was an artist, not just a star whose career depended on youth. But I knew in my heart that the legend of Alexandra del Lago couldn’t be separated from an appearance of youth…

There’s no more valuable knowledge than knowing the right time to go. I knew it. I went at the right time to go. RETIRED!

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Well, sooner or later, at some point in your life, the thing that you lived for is lost or abandoned, and then…you die, or find something else. This is my something else…

Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

You were well born, weren’t you? Born of good Southern stock, in a genteel tradition, with just one disadvantage, a laurel wreath on your forehead, given too early, without enough effort to earn it…where’s your scrapbook, Chance? […] Where’s your book full of little theatre notices and stills that show you in the background of…

Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Whether or not I do have a disease of the heart that places an early terminal date on my life, no mention of that, no reference to it ever. No mention of death, never, never a word on that odious subject. I’ve been accused of having a death wish but I think it’s life that I wish for, terribly, shamelessly, on any terms whatsoever.

When I say now, the answer must not be later. I have only one way to forget these things I don’t want to remember and that’s through the act of love-making. That’s the only dependable distraction so when I say now, because I need that distraction, it has to be now, not later.

Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Act One, Scene Two Quotes

Yes, well…the others…[…] are all now members of the young social set here. The girls are young matrons, bridge-players, and the boys belong to the Junior Chamber of Commerce and some of them, clubs in New Orleans such as Rex and Comus and ride on the Mardi Gras floats. Wonderful? No boring…I wanted, expected, intended to get, something better…Yes, and I did, I got it. I did things that fat-headed gang never dreamed of. Hell when they were still freshmen at Tulane or LSU or Ole Miss, I sang in the chorus of the biggest show in New York, in Oklahoma, and had pictures in LIFE in a cowboy outfit, tossin’ a ten-gallon hat in the air! […] And at the same time pursued my other vocation….Maybe the only one I was truly meant for, love-making…slept in the social register of New York!

Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

By the time I got out, Christ knows, I might be nearly thirty! Who would remember Chance Wayne? In a life like mine, you just can’t stop, you know, can’t take time out between steps, you’ve got to keep going right on up from one thing to the other, once you drop out, it leaves you and goes on without you and you’re washed up.

Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

I got the idea I wouldn’t live through the war, that I wouldn’t come back, that all the excitement and glory of being Chance Wayne would go up in smoke at the moment of contact between my brain and a bit of hot steel that happened to be in the air at the same time and place that my head was…that thought didn’t comfort me any. Imagine a whole lifetime of dreams and ambitions and hopes dissolving away in one instant, being blacked out like some arithmetic problem washed off a blackboard by a wet sponge, just by some little accident like a bullet, not even aimed at you but just shot off in space, and so I cracked up, my nerves did.

Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Princess, the great difference between people in this world is not between the rich and the poor or the good and the evil, the biggest of all differences in this world is between the ones that had or have pleasure in love and those that haven’t and hadn’t any pleasure in love, but just watched it with envy, sick envy. The spectators and the performers. I don’t mean just ordinary pleasure or the kind you can buy, I mean great pleasure, and nothing that’s happened to me or to Heavenly since can cancel out the many long nights without sleep when we gave each other such pleasure in love as very few people can look back on in their lives…

Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two, Scene One Quotes

Don’t give me your Voice of God speech. Papa, there was a time when you could have saved me, by letting me marry a boy that was still young and clean, but instead you drove him away, drove him out of St. Cloud. And when he came back, you took me out of St. Cloud, and tried to force me to marry a fifty-year-old money bag that you wanted something out of […] and then another, another, all of them ones that you wanted something out of. I’d gone, so Chance went away. Tried to compete, make himself big as these big shots you wanted to use me for a bond with. He went. He tried. The right doors wouldn’t open, and so he went in the wrong ones, and—Papa, you married for love, why wouldn’t you let me do it, while I was alive, inside, and the boy still clean, still decent?

Related Characters: Heavenly Finley (speaker), Chance Wayne, Boss Finley
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

You’re going to be wearing the stainless white of a virgin, with a Youth for Tom Finley button on one shoulder and a corsage of lilies on the other. You’re going to be on the speaker’s platform with me, you on one side of me and Tom Junior on the other, to scotch these rumors about your corruption. And you’re gonna wear a proud happy smile on your face, you’re gonna stare straight out at the crowd in the ballroom with pride and joy in your eyes. Lookin’ at you, all in white like a virgin, nobody would dare to speak or believe the ugly stories about you. I’m relying a great deal on this campaign to bring in young voters for the crusade I’m leading. I’m all that stands between the South and the black days of Reconstruction. And you and Tom Junior are going to stand there beside me in the grand crystal ballroom, as shining examples of white Southern youth—in danger.

Related Characters: Boss Finley (speaker), Chance Wayne, Heavenly Finley, Tom Junior
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two, Scene Two Quotes

Chance, when I saw you driving under the window with your head held high, with that terrible stiff-necked pride of the defeated which I know so well; I knew that your comeback had been a failure like mine. And I felt something in my heart for you. That’s a miracle, Chance. That’s the wonderful thing that happened to me. I felt something for someone besides myself. That means my heart’s still alive, at least some part of it is, not all of my heart is dead yet. Part’s alive still…Chance, please listen to me. I’m ashamed of this morning. I’ll never degrade you again, I’ll never degrade myself, you and me, again by—I wasn’t always this monster. Once I wasn’t this monster. And what I felt in my heart when I saw you returning, defeated, to this palm garden, Chance, gave me hope that I could stop being a monster. Chance, you’ve got to help me stop being the monster that I was this morning, and you can do it, can help me. I won’t be ungrateful for it. I almost died this morning, suffocated in a panic. But even through my panic, I saw your kindness. I saw a true kindness in you that you have almost destroyed, but that’s still there, a little…

Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

All day I’ve kept hearing a sort of lament that drifts through the air of this place. It says, “Lost, lost, never to be found again.” Palm gardens by the sea and olives groves on Mediterranean islands all have that lament drifting through them. “Lost, lost”…The isle of Cyprus, Monte Carlo, San Remo, Torremolenas, Tangiers. They’re all places of exile from whatever we loved. Dark glasses, wide-brimmed hats and whispers, “Is that her?” Shocked whispers…Oh, Chance, believe me, after failure comes flight. Nothing ever comes after failure but flight. Face it. Call the car, have them bring down the luggage and let’s go on along the Old Spanish Trail.

Related Symbols: The Lament
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Three Quotes

Of course, you were crowned with laurel in the beginning, your gold hair was wreathed with laurel, but the gold is thinning and the laurel has withered. Face it—pitiful monster. [She touches the crown of his head.] … Of course, I know I’m one too. But one with a difference. Do you know what that difference is? No, you don’t know. I’ll tell you. We are two monsters, but with this difference between us. Out of the passion and torment of my existence I have created a thing that I can unveil, a sculpture, almost heroic, that I can unveil, which is true. But you? You’ve come back to the town you were born in, to a girl that won’t see you because you put such rot in her body she had to be gutted and hung on a butcher’s hook, like a chicken dressed for Sunday….

Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sweet Bird of Youth LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sweet Bird of Youth PDF

Chance Wayne Character Timeline in Sweet Bird of Youth

The timeline below shows where the character Chance Wayne appears in Sweet Bird of Youth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene One
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Chance Wayne awakes in the Royal Palms Hotel and hears flapping bird wings outside the window.... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Apparently, Fly used to wait tables at the ballroom where Chance went to dances on Saturday nights with Mr. Boss Finley’s daughter. Before long, Fly exits,... (full context)
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Getting to his point, Scudder asks Chance why he’s returned to St. Cloud. “I’ve still got a mother and a girl in... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Scudder tells Chance he ought to talk to the Reverend if he has any questions, but Chance merely... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...leave, Scudder says he’ll speak to Dan Hatcher—assistant manager of the hotel—and tell him that Chance and his snoozing companion will soon checkout of their room. When Chance demands that Scudder... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Responding to Scudder’s remark about castration, Chance says, “I’m used to that threat. I’m not going to leave St. Cloud without my... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...and then suddenly bolts upright and gasps, asking for help and demanding to know who Chance is. “I don’t remember who you are!” she laments, but Chance assures her she’ll soon... (full context)
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
The Princess insists that Chance hang up the phone. When he does, he tries to tell her what Hatcher said,... (full context)
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
“You’re full of complexes, plump lady,” says Chance. “Why do you call me that? Have I let go of my figure?” the Princess... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...wants to call the manager to ask where she is and who she’s with, but Chance tells her to calm down, pulling her to himself on the bed. As she lies... (full context)
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Chance helps the Princess piece together how they met. She says the last place she remembers... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
When Chance fetches “the stuff,” he says, “This isn’t pot. What is it?” As he sets to... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...raging,” so she chose to numb that internal turmoil with drugs and “young lovers.” “Me?” Chance asks, and she says, “You? Yes, finally you. But you come after the comeback.” Going... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
“Princess,” Chance says, turning his attention to the hashish, “don’t forget that this stuff is yours, that... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Apparently, Chance gave the Princess a false name—Carl—when they first met, and this makes her suddenly suspicious... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Chance says that he has been conned too many times to fully trust things that might... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Chance,” says the Princess, “come back to your youth. Put off this false, ugly hardness and…”... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
The Princess says she’ll help Chance on the condition that he never mention death or her failing health. Furthermore, he must... (full context)
Act One, Scene Two
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
While the Princess writes traveler’s checks for him, Chance tells his life story. He says he was born with “a wish or need to... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Chance tells the Princess that he has done things nobody in St. Cloud has ever done,... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Proceeding with his life story, Chance admits that he hated the discipline of the Navy. “I kept thinking, this stops everything,”... (full context)
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
After getting discharged from the Navy, Chance’s relationship with Heavenly became vitally important to him. At this point, the Princess interrupts him... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Chance tells the Princess that he always has had Heavenly’s love to come back to. “Something... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Because of his troubles with Boss Finley, Chance explains, he needs the Princess’s help. He then tells her what he has in mind:... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Having heard his plan, the Princess calls Chance a “lost little boy,” though she admits she wants to help him “find himself.” She... (full context)
Act Two, Scene One
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Boss Finley meets with George Scudder inside his house and laments the return of Chance Wayne, scowling that the wretched man “had” Heavenly when she was only fifteen. He knows... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
...operation a secret, but Finley changes the subject, saying he merely wants to know if Chance has left yet. To his dismay, Tom Junior and Scudder inform him that Chance is... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Boss Finley states the reason he wants Chance Wayne removed from St. Cloud, saying: “My daughter’s no whore, but she had a whore’s... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
When Chance pulls into Boss Finley’s driveway, he sees Aunt Nonnie and calls to her, but she... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...that he missed his chance to “save” her because he didn’t allow her to marry Chance when she was “still young and clean.” Instead, she says, he “drove him away” and... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...saying she won’t stand up there with him, and this prompts her father to threaten Chance’s safety, saying, “If you won’t, you won’t. Bu there would be consequences you might not... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
When Heavenly says that Boss Finley “wouldn’t dare” do something violent to Chance, he says, “A lot of people approve of taking violent action against corrupters. And on... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Two
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...his face behind a newspaper and waiting. At this point, Fly comes in looking for Chance and tells Miss Lucy that he (Chance) has returned to St. Cloud with Alexandra Del... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
When Aunt Nonnie comes into the lounge, Chance is happy to see her and suggests they drink a bucket of champagne. Despite his... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Talking about what he has become, Chance and Nonnie discuss Chance’s past. He reminds her that he directed and acted in a... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Despite the fact that Aunt Nonnie doesn’t want to hear him tell the story, Chance explains that he bribed one of the conductors on the train to give him and... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Aunt Nonnie tells Chance that Heavenly won’t be able to win a beauty contest because she’s “not young” anymore.... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
When Chance goes over to join his old friends, Violet and Edna leave, and Bud calls for... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Chance is embarrassed by the information Miss Lucy and Stuff have broadcast about his life, and... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
“I doubt that story,” Chance says, and Stuff asks him if he really doubts that a black man was castrated.... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Miss Lucy asks Chance to tell her whom he’s traveling with. “Miss Lucy I’m traveling with the vice-president and... (full context)
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Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Once again, Miss Lucy tries to persuade Chance to leave, but their conversation is interrupted when the Princess enters the lounge calling out... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
The Princess keeps telling Chance about what she felt when she saw him driving in her Cadillac, revealing that she... (full context)
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
...breaks away from him and runs into the lounge, where she suddenly finds herself facing Chance. “For a long instant,” Williams notes in his stage directions, “Chance and Heavenly stand there:... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
“I used to leave places when I was told to,” Chance tells Hatcher and Tom Junior. “Not now. That time’s over. Now I leave when I’m... (full context)
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Still separated, Chance asks Tom Junior to tell him what has happened to Heavenly since he was last... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Continuing his rant about Chance’s irresponsible behavior, Tom Junior outlines how Chance contracted a disease from the rich woman with... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Before leaving, Tom Junior warns Chance that he too will “get the knife” if he doesn’t leave St. Cloud tonight. Having... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Calling for a wheelchair, Chance has the Princess rolled away by Stuff and a bellboy, making him the only person... (full context)
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
...thrown down a set of stairs while Boss Finley forges on with his speech. Meanwhile, Chance sits completely still in the lounge, watching the heckler receive a severe beating. Just before... (full context)
Act Three
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...When she does, Tom Junior tells her she must leave because of her association with Chance. The three men then force their way inside and search for Chance. When they finish,... (full context)
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Chance looks like “he has gone a good deal further across the border of reason.” The... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
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...come off, and whatever traces are left of really great charm and sweetness.” Turning to Chance, she tells him that he is the same as this man. “Will you please try... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Chance shakes off the Princess, picks up the phone, and dials the operator. As the Princess... (full context)
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Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Finally, Chance gets the reporter on the phone and gives the receiver to the Princess. As he... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
...the reporter she’ll call her back, at which point she drops the phone and tells Chance that her movie has broken box-office records. Ignoring Chance’s indignation that she didn’t mention him,... (full context)
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Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
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Chance,” the Princess continues, “you’ve gone past something you couldn’t afford to go past; your time,... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
The Princess says that Chance, unlike her, isn’t a “monster” with a “difference,” but just a sorry man who’s in... (full context)
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Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
Before leaving, the Princess asks Chance if he’s coming or staying. “Staying,” he says, loosening his tie. She tugs on his... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
...The Lament fades in and plays until the end of the play. The Princess tells Chance once more that they must “go on,” but he says he can’t because he has... (full context)
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Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
“Come on, Chance,” the Princess says, urging him to come with her. Looking up, Chance only shakes his... (full context)