illustrated portrait of American playwright Tennessee Williams

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Using examples such as symbolism, characterization, themes, and the like, how would you compare Sweet Bird of Youth and A Streetcar Named Desire?

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The plays of Tennessee Williams often feature people near the end of their rope, and the characters in both Sweet Bird of Youth and A Streetcar Named Desire exemplify that type of character. In analyzing the two plays side-by-side, several main characters have many similarities and so lend themselves to...

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The plays of Tennessee Williams often feature people near the end of their rope, and the characters in both Sweet Bird of Youth and A Streetcar Named Desire exemplify that type of character. In analyzing the two plays side-by-side, several main characters have many similarities and so lend themselves to comparison. The focus on the past, lost opportunities, and youth is a similarity that can be explored as well.

Both Chance and the Princess suggest comparisons to Blanche. Chance and Blanche are coming close to the end of their paths; both have lost their homes and are basically drifting. Although one is male and the other female, they are living off the “kindness of strangers,” as Blanche phrases it. While in Chance’s case, the casual sexual relationships he has had are largely open knowledge, Blanche has tried to hide that side of herself and her behavior.

The Princess also suggests comparisons with Blanche, as someone who affects a different persona because she likes the illusion better than reality. Chance criticizes this fake aspect even as he tries to take advantage of it through blackmail; this is similar to Stanley criticizing Blanche while he is trying to get Stella to get the money from their estate that he thinks Blanche is hiding.

Chance resembles Stanley in being a big, macho, self-centered character who does not care how he has harmed other people—in Chance’s case Heavenly, who he left behind—as long as he can work his schemes, which turn out to be futile attempts.

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One interesting essay topic that links A Streetcar Named Desire with Sweet Bird of Youth could concern Williams's depictions of the experience of aging. Both Blanche and Chance feel they may have wasted opportunities that only the young are able to experience, so comparing their experiences could make for an easy-to-organize argumentative essay about character development.

An essay about the symbols that represent the enduring power of the Old South could also make for a solid essay. Blanche herself (specifically, her identity as a Southern belle) can be argued as a symbol of the South's reluctance to conform to the new ways of the twentieth century. Heavenly's forced hysterectomy and her ensuing inability to have children can be argued to represent the decay of the Old South. These symbols can be also be combined into a fascinating feminist interpretation of the impact of Southern tradition on Southern women in both plays.

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I would suggest looking at how both characters in Sweet Bird of Youth struggle with their own demons and try to identify how their internal conflicts are the same and how they differ.

In this comparison, Chance and the Princess can be explored as characters and also connected to the plays themes (which relate to desires for a return to lost youth; regret; fantasy; failure).

Aging and time are parts of life that cannot be avoided, but only Chance cannot accept that by the end of the play.

These characters need one another, in some ways, and use each other in others, depending on their internal troubles, which become externalized over the course of the play. 

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