Sweet Bird of Youth

by

Tennessee Williams

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Themes and Colors
Youth, Beauty, and Time Theme Icon
Purity and Corruption Theme Icon
Love, Obsession, and Pleasure Theme Icon
Escapism and Denial Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sweet Bird of Youth, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Youth, Beauty, and Time

In Sweet Bird of Youth, the inevitability of aging wears on characters who have come to depend on a superficial kind of beauty. Chance, an aspiring actor, has no true talent as a performer. Nonetheless, he has spent his life chasing the minor success he enjoyed as a young man, always believing himself worthy of fame. A ladies’ man and gigolo (male escort), he’s supported himself by exploiting his youthful vitality and appeal…

read analysis of Youth, Beauty, and Time

Purity and Corruption

In Sweet Bird of Youth, the antagonistic Boss Finley sets forth bigoted notions of racial purity as well as patriarchal views regarding womanhood. Not only does this politician believe whites and blacks shouldn’t integrate or copulate, but he also thinks his daughter Heavenly has been corrupted—defiled—by her pre-marital sexual exploits with Chance Wayne. In other words, Boss Finley loathes what he sees as impurity, and so he brings his racist and misogynistic agenda…

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Love, Obsession, and Pleasure

Chance Wayne’s love of Heavenly drives him throughout the entirety of Sweet Bird of Youth, encouraging him to not only endure a number of social disgraces, but also to face down dangerous threats. The only reason he has worked so hard to become famous, he claims, is so that he can return to St. Cloud and earn Boss Finley’s blessing to marry Heavenly. However, because this never comes to pass—and because Chance…

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Escapism and Denial

In Sweet Bird of Youth, characters like Chance Wayne and the Princess try to keep themselves from facing difficult thoughts and feelings. Whether by using drugs or running from city to city, they both actively avoid the fact that their deepest fears—of aging and fading into irrelevance or obscurity—have come true. For the Princess, this means drinking, popping pills, running away from her everyday life, and having sex with a younger man in order…

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