Chance is the protagonist of the play. He is a wannabe actor who still considers himself to be a young, fresh face even though his youth is beginning to go. He grew up in the town of St. Cloud, on the Gulf Coast, and since his youth has been in love with Heavenly Finley. He has always hoped that he could overcome his humble beginnings and win over Heavenly with a Hollywood career, but when that did not pay off, he turned to work as a gigolo.
Chance is haunted by a memory of making love to Heavenly in high school on a train traveling home from an acting competition where they placed fourth. In the course of their relationship, Chance gave Heavenly a venereal disease passed on to him by a client from his sex work. In spite of being the protagonist of the play, Chance is a strikingly amoral character: opportunistic, deluded, addicted to booze and pills, and unable to take full responsibility for his actions. He meets a tragic fate at the end of the play, opting to stay and face the violence of his enemies in St. Cloud. His obsession with youth gets the better of him, as he comes to believe that his only enemy is time.
Alexandra Del Lago or "Princess"
Traveling under the alias "Princes Kosmonopolis," Alexandra is a Norma Desmond-esque actress whose looks and career are fading. She clings to her stardom and hopes that her comeback movie will re-establish her as a leading light on the silver screen, but while watching the film's premiere she had a panic attack when she saw a close up of her face on the screen and realized how much she had aged. She ran from the theater and has been running ever since, hoping to completely lose herself through booze, pills, and sex. She meets Chance as a guest at a fancy hotel in Palm Beach where he is working. He joins her on her jaunts from one resort to another and enables her to forget about her tortured reality. She is a tragic figure, often in a haze and searching for meaning in her life beyond beauty and youth. She thinks that she might just find redemption in thinking of herself as an artist, but struggles to find meaning or self-worth without the platform of fame. In the beginning of the play, she is desperate, panicked, and completely dependent on Chance. By the end, when she finds out she's having a comeback, she is able to rise from the ashes and leave her tawdry life of hotel-dwelling behind without batting an eye.
Heavenly is the daughter of a wealthy and powerful St. Cloud politician, and the longtime love of the infamous Chance Wayne. He took her virginity when they were young and recently gave her a venereal disease, the surgical cure for which rendered her infertile. She is now despairing and lost, forced to join her father's political campaign in spite of the ways he has limited her and prevented her from following her heart.
Boss Finley is a powerful politician in St. Cloud, as well as an overbearing and inconsiderate father. He believes that God spoke to him and told him to run for office, so that he could save the South from desegregation. At the same time, he tries to position himself as somehow not racist, in spite of his horribly bigoted political agenda. He is the archetype of political hypocrisy and Southern gentility, a man who acts in an entirely selfish manner.
Tom is Heavenly's brother and Boss Finley's oldest child. He has organized a youth group in support of his father's political aspirations, and is completely loyal to his father in both real life and in political ideology. He does not shy away from what he sees as his filial duties and is happy to beat up Chance on his father's orders. His squeaky clean public image covers his crime-riddled and troubled personal life; he is a college flunky and has been arrested for drunk driving very recently.
George Scudder is a local doctor who operated on Heavenly when she contracted a venereal disease. He is also engaged to marry her, even though she still loves her sweetheart, Chance.
Miss Lucy is Boss Finley's longtime mistress, who lives in a room at the Royal Palms Hotel. She lives lavishly, charging all of her expenses to Boss, but never enjoying the privileges of his public life. She is kind to Chance, whom she remembers from boyhood, and tries to steer him away from staying in St. Cloud, fearing the dangers that will befall him.
The Heckler is precisely that, a heckler, who has been following Boss Finley around and disparaging his political campaign in order to expose his hypocrisy. He makes reference to Heavenly's recent surgery in the middle of Boss's rally at the Royal Palms, and is set upon by a group of Boss's supporters.
Sweet Bird of Youth Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Sweet Bird of Youth is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.