Sweet Bird of Youth

by Tennessee Williams

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Discuss Williams presentation of the relationship between Boss and his son Tom Finley, and its dramatic significance for Sweet Bird of Youth.

Williams presents the relationship between Boss and his son Tom Finley as that between a master and servant. Boss constantly dominates and controls Tom, who loyally carries out his father's orders come what may.

The dramatic significance in this relationship is that it means that Chance will never get to be with Boss's daughter. Chance will never get to regain that "sweet bird of youth" because Boss has told Tom to hunt down Chance and castrate him.

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Boss Finley sees other people as objects to be manipulated to his own ends, made to be bent to serve his particular purposes. A powerful local politician used to getting his own way, he simply won't tolerate anyone defying his will. His absolute dominion includes the members of his own family.

When Chance rocks up in town looking to reestablish a relationship with his high school sweetheart Heavenly—who is Boss's daughter—Boss is far from pleased. He sees Chance as a no-good gigolo who is completely unsuitable to be his son-in-law.

Yet Chance still holds out the hope that he and Heavenly will be together again. So long as Boss is still breathing, their reunion will never happen. In this sleepy Southern town, the Boss's word is law; what he says always goes. So if he tells his doggedly loyal son Tom to track down Chance and have him castrated, then that's exactly what he'll do. Tom won't even hesitate.

Boss's master-servant relationship with Tom mirrors his relationship with just about everybody in town. Boss gives orders; people obey them. It's that simple. From a dramatic standpoint it means that Chance will never be able to overcome his antagonist. Though Boss Finley's order to Tom to hunt down Chance and castrate him is completely psychotic, Tom's absolute loyalty to his father is such that he will do whatever it takes to make it happen. That being the case, there's no chance whatsoever—no pun intended—that Chance will ever be able to regain that "sweet bird of youth" of his younger years.

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