Sweet Bird of Youth

Sweet Bird of Youth Summary and Analysis of Part 5


Chance reminds Princess that he told her to wait in the hotel room, but she insists that when she saw him return to the hotel, she knew his comeback had been a failure, just like hers. "That's the wonderful thing that happened to me. I felt something for someone besides myself. That means my heart's still alive, at least some part of it is, not all of my heart is dead yet," she says. She references the fact that Chance gave her oxygen that morning, suggesting that that gave her faith in human kindness once again.

Suddenly, someone begins calling Chance, and he freezes. It is Dan Hatcher, the assistant manager at the Royal Palms, and he walks towards Chance, just as Tom Jr. and Scotty appear. Chance puts his arm around Princess and tells her he will take her upstairs after he gets her a drink. Dan calls to Chance, but Princess begs him not to leave her alone.

In the middle of all this, Boss Finley arrives, and everyone rushes off to greet him except Chance, Princess, and the Heckler. Suddenly, Heavenly comes running in and faces Chance. The Heckler stands in between them, as Boss comes in, takes Heavenly's arm, and pulls her offstage. Princess urges Chance to get the car so that they can leave, when Scotty and Hatcher beckon Chance over to their group. Tom Jr. wants to talk to him privately.

Tom Jr. invites Chance to have a conversation with him in the washroom, but Chance declines and delivers a long monologue stating that St. Cloud is as much his town as it is anyone else's. Tom Jr. wants to pounce on Chance, but the other men hold him back. Tom Jr. breaks free from the other boys and dismisses them, before asking Chance to join him for a talk.

When Chance tries to defend himself, Tom Jr. says, "You mean to say my sister was had by somebody else—diseased by somebody else the last time you were in St. Cloud?...I know, it's possible, it's barely possible that you didn't know what you done to my little sister the last time you come to St. Cloud." He implies that Chance picked up a venereal disease from a client of his named Minnie, and passed it along to Heavenly, who then had to get surgery for it, an invasive surgery (performed by Scudder) that eliminated her ability to have children. He threatens to kill Chance if he stays in town.

Princess begs Chance to leave with her, saying, "Oh, Chance, believe me, after failure comes flight. Nothing ever comes after failure but flight." She begs him not to leave her, lest she turn back into "the first lady of the Beanstalk Country," but he tells her to go back to the room. Suddenly, he calls for a wheelchair and Princess is dragged from the stage by Stuff and a bellboy.

When Chance is alone on the stage, a drum majorette with a banner "Youth for Tom Finley," as well as Boss Finley, Heavenly, and Tom Jr. all enter. They go into the rally, as Miss Lucy preps the Heckler for his heckling. She asks him not to go after Heavenly in his heckles, but he insists that he must say what he must. Miss Lucy tells Stuff to turn on the television, which becomes the fourth wall, as we see Boss begin his speech.

Boss delivers an impassioned speech about the fact that he is the primary ally to black people in the South, but that he cannot support the desegregation, which he refers to as "a blood pollution." He condemns the recent castration as "deplorable," as the Heckler begins to heckle him about his daughter's operation. "Did she put on black in mourning for her appendix?" he yells, as someone hits him. As the Heckler falls down and a number of men begin to beat him, Boss talks about the fact that an effigy of him was hung and burned on the college, on Good Friday, but that today it is Easter. As the Heckler gets beaten, Heavenly goes down the stairs and collapses in tears.

Act 3. In the hotel bedroom, Princess is on the phone, while flickering light from the Palm Garden cascades through the room. She asks the operator what happened to her driver, as Chance enters and stands in the shadows of the gallery. Suddenly, Dan Hatcher knocks on her door, along with Tom Jr., Bud, and Scotty. Hatcher tells her she's stayed too long in the room, since her checkout time was 3:30.

Princess insists that she deals directly with the owners of hotels, not the managers, as Tom Jr. pushes himself into the room, asking for Chance. She insists that Chance left that morning, and tells them she needs someone to drive her car out of there. Tom Jr. says he will do so, and they all leave. When they have, Chance sneaks into the room and tells Princess that he will drive her. Princess compares him to someone she knew, Franz Albertzart, a kept man who drove off a cliff and cracked his head open. Chance ignores this story, as Princess insists that his only hope for the future is to become her kept boy.

"Don't you know, I'd die first?" Chance exclaims, "I would rather die first..." He then calls Sally Powers on Princess's behalf. Princess is appalled, but then tells him Sally's number. Suddenly, she walks to the forestage and delivers a monologue to the audience, saying, "He doesn't exist now except as somebody making this awful call for me, asking the answer for me." She talks about the fact that she is the only person lit on the stage, saying, "Monsters don't die early; they hang on long. Awfully long. Their vanity's infinite, almost as infinite as their disgust with themselves..." As the phone rings louder, the stage light comes back up.

Chance tells Princess that he has a personal reason for making the call. He eventually gets through to Sally Powers, and hands Princess the phone. She talks to Sally about the fact that she's been running ever since her movie did poorly. As Chance tells Princess to mention him and Heavenly, Princess receives compliments from Sally about the way her work as an actress has matured and grown over the years. When Sally gives Princess some good news, Princess becomes overwhelmed and says she'll have to call her back. As she hangs up she tells Chance that her movie broke box-office records, and that it marks her comeback.

When Chance begs her to call Sally back and mention him, she tells him that she would never want to associate with someone like him, that he has just been using her. "I climbed back alone up the beanstalk to the ogre's country where I live, now, alone. Chance, you've gone past something you couldn't afford to go past; your time, your youth, you've passed it. It's all you had, and you've had it."

Princess denigrates Chance, suggesting that they are both monsters, but she has created a sculpture out of her torment, whereas he has simply come back to a town where he is unwanted. As she puts on a mink stole, she asks if he's leaving or staying, and offers to drive him to the next town, lest he sullies her name. "Whatever happens to me's already happened," he replies, defeated. A stage direction reads, "The Princess...sits down by Chance on the bed, facing the audience. Both are faced with castration, and in her heart she knows it. They sit side by side on the bed like two passengers on a train sharing a bench."

They sit side by side, discussing the progression of time. Tom Jr. calls to Princess, saying that he has gotten her a driver. Princess goes to the door and invites Chance to come along but he decides to stay. When Princess leaves, Tom Jr. calls to Scotty and Budd and Chance says, "I don't ask for your pity, but just for your understanding—not even that—no. Just for your recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all."


Chance's delusions of hope and his ability to return to his youth end up rubbing off on Princess, who comes down from her hotel room to tell him that he has renewed her belief in her own ability to feel for other people. She informs him that when she saw him return to the hotel, she felt something in her heart for him, and that this is good news because she did not believe herself capable of empathy. Chance's doomed journey has only reinvigorated Princess'. His belief in his ability to reclaim and recreate the past has been contagious, as she begins to see that she might be able to stop being a monster, if only she can feel something for others.

The characters in Sweet Bird of Youth are as much archetypes as they are specific individuals. This is signaled most noticeably in their names. "Princess" is the archetype of a princess, a faded beauty with great wealth who depends on the help and adoration of others to stay alive. "Chance" has put his whole life to chance, seeking work in the movies and as a gigolo, and taking big risks to try and relive his youth. His beloved's name is "Heavenly," a reference to the pedestal on which he puts her, and her father, the powerful and corrupt local politician, is referred to as "Boss." These folksy Southern names are not simply catchy signifiers, but references to the ways that the characters represent certain ideas and qualities within the narrative.

In this final section of the play, Tom Jr. reveals exactly what happened to his sister that led her to need surgery. While it has until now been unclear whether it was a pregnancy or a disease, Tom confirms that Chance's promiscuity working as a gigolo to provide money for Heavenly led to her contracting a disease for which she needed to get surgery. This sin is even more sordid and scandalous than an unwanted pregnancy, in that it is connected to sex work and promiscuity, and that it also rendered Heavenly infertile. Tom Jr. is appalled to have to report to Chance the horrible damage done to his innocent and unsuspecting sister.

Chance's checkered past and the local political situation collide at the rally. As Boss makes a self-aggrandizing speech that both distances him from the recent act of racial violence (the castration of a black man) while also promoting segregation, the Heckler makes an example of Heavenly, his daughter, and calls out her recent surgery for her venereal disease. Boss's hypocrisy as a political talking head is exposed through the humiliation of his daughter. The Heckler points out that the virginal pure white women that Boss presumes to protect, such as his daughter, are not so virginal after all. Indirectly, Chance becomes part of the exposure of Boss's evil political platform.

The play ends with Princess, unexpectedly, finding that she no longer needs Chance. After talking to Sally Powers on the phone and discovering that she has made a comeback, Princess is full steam ahead to Hollywood, and she does not want Chance sullying her reputation. However, as they both consider the future, they are connected by the very shared knowledge that first brought them together: the realization that time has not been kind to them, and that they are both doomed in certain ways by their fall from society's graces. The play ends with a desperate Chance, facing the sins of his past and resigning himself to the trudge of everyone's enemy—time.