“You don’t have a girl in St. Cloud. Heavenly and I are going to be married next month.”
In the first scene, Chance Wayne tells the young doctor, George Scudder, that he is back in town looking to reconnect with the girl he loved and left years before, Heavenly Finley. In a shocking turn, Scudder informs Chance that he cannot win her back, as she is engaged to him. This is a warning to Chance, urging him to give up in his mission.
“Stars in retirement sometimes give acting lessons. Or take up painting, paint flowers on pots, or landscapes. I could have painted the landscapes of the endless withering country in which I wandered like a lost nomad. If I could paint deserts and nomads, if I could paint…hahahah…”
Princess is an aging starlet grappling with her descent into obscurity. In a monologue directed at the audience, she considers the plight of an actress who has aged out of a career, and considers her alternatives, including painting. Unfortunately, however, she realizes that she's not much of an artist.
“Papa, you married for love, why wouldn’t you let me do it, while I was alive, and the boy still clean, still decent?”
At Boss Finley's house, his daughter Heavenly calls him out on his hypocrisy, the fact that he married her mother for love, but then forbade her from marrying Chance when he was "still clean, still decent." In this moment, she pins Chance's fall from grace and turn to sex work on her father.
"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.”
This is the final line of the play, uttered by Chance, after he refuses the help of Princess. Knowing that he will be hurt by the men of St. Cloud if he stays there, Chance surrenders himself to a tragic fate. Having decided that the only thing that a man must fear is time—the loss of youth—Chance decides to completely give himself over to his enemies, asking only for recognition, and their recognition of the common enemy, time.
"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 the 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.”
Chance says this to Princess in reference to the fact that he has known great love with Heavenly, and that is all that matters. He suggests that people who have known love are the most privileged group in the world, in spite of the fact that it was his class position that prevented Boss from allowing Chance to be with Heavenly in the first place. This line is representative of Chance's delusional logic.
"When monster meets monster, one monster has to give way, AND IT WILL NEVER BE ME."
When Chance blackmails Princess and insists that she give him money immediately, she says this. She insists that she knows how to handle someone who is being a "monster," and insists that she will always win. Princess is sure that, when it comes to being monstrous, she will always prevail.
"I gave people more than I took. Middle-aged people I gave back a feeling of youth. Lonely girls? Understanding, appreciation! An absolutely convincing show of affection. Sad people, lost people? Something light and uplifting! Eccentrics? Tolerance, even odd things they long for...."
Chance explains to Princess, in the first scene, how he got into work as a gigolo. He describes it as a transaction in which he was giving more to his clients than they were giving to him. In Chance's narrative of his past, sex was something he could offer to other people, one of his skills, and a mode of performance.
"Hell, when I was fifteen, I come down barefoot out of the red clay hills as if the Voice of God called me. Which it did, I believe. I firmly believe He called me. And nothing, nobody, nowhere is gonna stop me, never...."
Boss says this at the end of Act 2, Scene 1. It is a line that he uses often, his self-important justification for being a politician, and absolves him of all moral responsibility in his life. This line shows the audience the ways that Boss is as self-aggrandizing as he is corrupt.
"What you want to go back to is your clean, unashamed youth. And you can't."
In Act 2, Scene 2, Aunt Nonnie tries to dissuade Chance from pursuing Heavenly, even though he is set on being with her. She states the obstacles plainly, suggesting that he is simply trying to get back to his youth, even though that is impossible.
"Isn't it funny? We're still sitting here together, side by side in this room, like we were occupying the same bench on a train—going on together...Look. That little donkey's marching around and around to draw water out of a well..."
Princess says this at the end of the play, on the brink of leaving Chance behind for good. She has just learned that her last movie did well and her career is back on the rise, and she sits with Chance, thinking about all of the pathos they have shared and drifting into a kind of delusional haze yet again. It is an uncanny moment of tenderness and intimacy, on the eve of separation.
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.