Sweet Bird of Youth

Sweet Bird of Youth Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the paradox of Boss's dislike for Chance?

    Boss does not like Chance because Chance gave Heavenly a venereal disease that led to her needing to have an invasive and life-changing surgery. However, this is complicated by the fact that Chance only began working as a gigolo in order to earn enough money to live and win over Heavenly after Boss prevented their youthful courtship. In Act 2, Heavenly confronts her father about the fact that he married for love, but did not allow her to do so. Boss's control of Heavenly's love life is what indirectly leads to Chance giving Heavenly a venereal disease to begin with. In this sense, Boss is responsible for his daughter's fate, even though he pins all of the blame on Chance.

  2. 2

    What do Princess and Chance share?

    Princess and Chance are both people who exist on the margins of society, but who were once admired and beloved because of their youth and beauty. They are both performers in different ways. Princess was a movie star whose career has taken a downturn, and who struggles to figure out how to age gracefully when she feels irrelevant within the system of the entertainment business. Chance is a wannabe movie star who is still chasing redemption from a failure at a drama competition in high school, who has turned to work as a gigolo—its own kind of performance—to make ends meet. Both Chance and Princess desire more acclaim and notoriety, and have turned to alcohol, drugs, and deception in the absence of a sense of belonging. They are both, as Princess puts it, "monsters."

  3. 3

    What is the significance of desegregation in the play?

    The theme of desegregation in the South serves as a backdrop to the central action. In the wake of the decision to integrate races within the community, there has been a huge backlash from white residents of St. Cloud, punctuated by the castration of a black man by a white mob. Boss Finley is a segregationist politician who is trying to distance himself from the recent violent act, but while also maintaining that white community members must keep their women safe from sexual advances from black men. At one point, Chance gives a read on this political situation, suggesting that it amounts to nothing more than "sex-envy": white men's fear about the sexual superiority of black men. This whole background plot ties in to the general anxiety around sex that pervades the plot, the community efforts to maintain the sexual purity of white women. The racist, misogynistic, and generally phobic attitudes of the more conservative sects of Southern society serves to put the narrative into relief.

  4. 4

    What does Chance realize by the end?

    While Chance hangs on to many of his delusions up until the end of the play, one of the delusions that drifts away is his obsession with the past. By the end, he believes that his greatest enemy is time. He decides to stay in St. Cloud and face the wrath of the men in the town, because he believes that the enemy that all of humanity faces is time. His final line reflects this, as he says, "I don't ask for your pity, but just for your understanding—not even that—no. Just for some recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all.”

  5. 5

    What is the traumatic event that has led Chance to hang on to his youth for so long?

    While the main reason Chance obsesses over his lost youth is that he was never able to be with his one true love, Heavenly Finley, the specific traumatic event was a state drama competition. Heavenly and Chance were both high school thespians, but when they entered into a state drama competition, Chance forgot his lines at a key moment and their group only earned honorable mention. On the way back from the competition, Chance had sex with Heavenly for the first time. It is this memory that is embedded in Chance's mind and motivates him to try and win Heavenly back, primarily through proving his abilities as a performer in Hollywood.