Sweet Bird of Youth

by

Tennessee Williams

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The Lament Symbol Analysis

The Lament Symbol Icon

Throughout Sweet Bird of Youth, a “lament”—a melancholy strain of music—sometimes issues faintly from the overhead speakers. The occurrence of this music usually marks a shift in whatever emotional atmosphere the characters are navigating. For instance, when the Princess and Chance talk about his unsuccessful acting career, The Lament fades slowly in: “Something always blocks me…,” Chance says, referring to his acting. “What? What?” the Princess asks. “Do you know?” Williams then notes that Chance rises, at which point The Lament “is heard very faintly.” As the strains of music filter down, the Princess says: “Fear?” This exchange shows how Williams uses The Lament to hint at deep insecurities and other veiled emotional disturbances that lurk within his characters. When the Princess asks Chance if fear is what holds him back from greatness, The Lament sounds around him, signaling to the audience that this question has struck something raw and painful at his psychological core. In this way, The Lament comes to represent an undercurrent of self-doubt and unexamined emotion that plagues people like Chance and the Princess.

The Lament Quotes in Sweet Bird of Youth

The Sweet Bird of Youth quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Lament. 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 Two, Scene Two Quotes

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:
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The Lament Symbol Timeline in Sweet Bird of Youth

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Lament 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
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...reports or condolences on the disaster I ran from.” As she goes to the window, The Lament —a strain of plaintive “thematic” music that periodically plays throughout the production—issues faintly from above.... (full context)
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
...grade almost, but not quite, every time. Something always blocks me…” As he says this, The Lament fades back in, and the Princess asks him if fear is what holds him back.... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Two
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
...this, the Princess tries to convince Chance that they should leave. As she does so, The Lament drifts through the air, and she stops to consider it. “All day I’ve kept hearing... (full context)
Act Three
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Slowly, The Lament fades in and plays until the end of the play. The Princess tells Chance once... (full context)