Sweet Bird of Youth

Sweet Bird of Youth Summary and Analysis of Part 2


Chance accuses Princess of introducing him to hashish. He suggests that all of his vices are secondhand, but she calls him on his bluff, insisting that when they met in her cabana for a "papaya cream rub" he knew about it already. She calls him Carl, the name he told her when they met. Chance recalls that when they met, Princess told him that she had a large block of stock ("more than half-ownership") in a second-rate Hollywood studio and could get him a contract.

They discuss the fact that they have been intimate, and that Princess's sexual interest only "increases with satisfaction," when abruptly, she asks Chance if he has any acting talent. He tells her that he has tried, but not succeeded in acting. Stoned, Princess embraces him, as he tells her that he's been recording their conversation. She asks him how he got the tape recorder, and Chance tells her she bought it for him in Palm Beach so he could improve his diction. Chance plays back the part of the tape where Princess is talking about hashish, and she realizes she is being blackmailed.

"This is blackmail is it? Where's my mink stole?" she exclaims. Chance fetches her her stole, then her jewel case, then tells her that he wants money. "Your trade's turned dirt on you, Princess," he says. When he threatens to leak the tapes of her talking about hashish if she does not give him money, Princess goes on a long monologue about how nervous he seems, and how he was given too much attention too early in his genteel Southern upbringing.

Chance throws Princess her checkbook and tells her to write, but she replies, "When monster meets monster, one monster has to give way, AND IT WILL NEVER BE ME." She tells him that she has more experience in intimidating people, and reminds him that she has a lot of money. Princess then makes oblique reference to a heart condition, then tells Chance that she needs a distraction and that she wants him. "Now get a little sweet music on the radio and come here to me and make me almost believe that we're a pair of young lovers without any shame," she says, as he begins to obey her commands and the scene ends.

Scene 2. Princess is signing checks, while Chance is getting dressed. He tells her that she has to call down to the front desk to tell them she's sending him down with some traveler's checks, and gives her the phone. She asks the front desk what time it is and hangs up, before telling Chance she's not ready to send him down yet, as she has to "put on her face."

As Chance looks out the window, Princess encourages him to tell her his life story, suggesting that it will be his "screen test" and that if she finds it compelling she will contact her studio and notify them that she's found a young star. He tells her that he was born in St. Cloud and weighed 12 pounds, and that many of the kids he grew up with are still there. "The little crowd I was in with, that I used to be the star of, was the snobset, the ones with the big names and money. I didn't have either," he says.

Princess and Chance bond about the fact that they both had beauty, which earned them access to certain groups. Chance talks about the fact that while his classmates were at Tulane and Ole Miss, he was in the chorus of Oklahoma! on Broadway. He then talks about his other vocation with love-making, and the fact that he slept with all kinds of powerful women in New York. He discusses all the roles he inhabited in his sex work, then suggests that he joined the Navy when he was 23. He tells her that he got a medical discharge and came back to St. Cloud, at which point Heavenly, his lifelong sweetheart, "became more important...than anything else...."

At this point, Princess realizes that this is the whole reason they have stopped in St. Cloud. Chance pulls out a snapshot he took of her, nude, at 15, on Diamond Key, sitting on a sandbar. Chance tells Princess that he thinks the biggest divisions in the world exist not between the rich and the poor or the good and the evil, but between people who have known true love and those who have not. He tells Princess that no matter what happened in his life, he would come back to Heavenly, before revealing that they could never marry because her father is Boss Finley, a major politician, who disapproves of their romance.

Chance tells Princess that the last time he saw Heavenly, they met at the sandbar, but she just circled in a boat and told him to go away. "Princess, the end of the story is up to you," he says, "You want to help me?" He outlines a plan: they will go and check into the Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans under their names, at which point Princess will hold a press conference announcing that she is holding a talent contest to cast two young unknowns in a movie. "Heavenly and I win it. We get her out of St. Cloud, we go to the West Coast together," he tells her, but Princess insists that she does not want public attention.

Princess then goes to the phone and calls to the front desk, telling them she is sending down a young man to cash some traveler's checks. As she hangs up, Chance asks to drive her Cadillac around town to impress people. "Chance, you're a lost little boy that I really would like to help find himself," Princess says. She tells him to come and kiss her, then turns to the audience and says, "Did I say that? Did I mean it?" She tells him she might call the police, but he insists that the Cadillac will be back in the parking lot that evening with the leftover money in the glove compartment, and that he will be gone.

Princess is heartbroken to have Chance leave her, but she agrees to everything.


Chance and Princess have a curious and erratic relationship, one defined by a mix of codependent affection and punishing malice. This reflects the fact that, while they are in an erotic and "romantic" relationship of sorts, it is nonetheless transactional. Princess has hired Chance as a gigolo, and as such, there is a basic structural antagonism between them. Not only does Princess expect Chance to provide her with certain sensual comforts allotted for a lover, but she expects him to go along with her schemes and caprices, chastising him when he has misplaced an item of hers, and mistrusting his motives at every turn.

The play is a melodrama of sorts, a power play between two desperate people with rather unpredictable emotions. One minute Chance and Princess are embracing, the next they are philosophizing, and the next Chance is threatening Princess with blackmail. The intrigue of the plot is heightened and over-the-top, almost to a campy extreme, made all the campier by the two characters' theatrical personalities. When Princess realizes that Chance has recorded her, she simply says, "This is blackmail is it? Where's my mink stole?" The emotional landscape of the play follows a heightened and cartoonish structure, comical in its tragedy. One can almost smell the scent of hashish, papaya cream rub, and vodka coming off of the page.

This power struggle between Princess and Chance becomes particularly pointed when Chance tries to blackmail the aging starlet. He reveals that he has a tape recording of her talking about her illegal hashish and demands that she write him a check. However, it takes no time at all for Princess, a formidable opponent, to gain the upper hand, as she bellows, "When monster meets monster, one monster has to give way, AND IT WILL NEVER BE ME." She masterfully talks him out of blackmailing her while also seducing him in the same breath. In this moment, we see that Princess and Chance are not so different from one another, two desperate and ashamed people trying to connect in a world that has rejected them.

Performance comes up quite a bit within the confines of the hotel room. Princess is an over-the-hill actress who is always retreating into her imagination through drugs, sex, and booze, and speaks with a weathered nostalgia about her life in show business. Chance, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum, having never found a way in to the industry that he has so desperately wanted to join. They often play out their dynamic with a performative frame. For instance, as Chance goes to tell Princess his life story, she tells him, "Let's make it your audition, a sort of screen test for you...if you hold my attention with your life story, I'll know you have talent, I'll wire my studio on the Coast that I'm still alive and I'm on my way to the Coast with a young man named Chance Wayne that I think is cut out to be a great young star." Their erotic connection, as well as the dangerous line of deception that they toe (blackmail, lies, thievery) is all wrapped up in their respective relationships to show business.

Chance's role as a gigolo is a major part of his performance persona. While telling Princess his life story, he outlines all the ways that his sexual liaisons have been geared toward performing certain emotions in order to produce particular effects in his partners. He tells Princess, "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...." Here, we see that Chance sees sex as an opportunity to disappear into a character, into the expectations of another, and to truly give something to other people. The erotic and the performative are connected, in his vision; both manifest a desire to serve or help others.