Sweet Bird of Youth

by Tennessee Williams

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Characters Discussed

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Chance Wayne

Chance Wayne, a handsome would-be actor who did not “make it” in Hollywood and is now a gigolo. He has maneuvered his traveling companion, Princess Kosmonopolis, to visit his birthplace, St. Cloud, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico. His plan is to get the princess, who is really a faded film star, Alexandra Del Lago, to help him and Heavenly Finley, the youthful sweetheart he had deserted, begin careers in the motion picture industry. During their short stay, however, he learns that Heavenly has had a hysterectomy, because of his having given her a venereal disease, and that her father, Boss Finley, and her brother, Tom Junior, are waiting to castrate Chance if he ever shows his face in St. Cloud again. As the play ends, Chance recognizes that his youth has passed, that his dreams of stardom and Heavenly will never materialize, and that he must wait for the inevitable with what the playwright calls “deathbed dignity.”

Princess Kosmonopolis

Princess Kosmonopolis, also known as Alexandra Del Lago, a film star traveling incognito after fleeing from a preview showing of her “comeback” film. She uses every service and distraction Chance offers, from oxygen, pills, liquor, and hashish to sex. She cannot forget, however, what she believes to be her failed attempt to return to motion pictures as a middle-aged woman. Toward the end of the play, she learns that her film is a success, and she offers to take Chance with her on the return trip to Hollywood, but he declines. She, too, has lost the “sweet bird of youth,” but time has allowed her a slight reprieve.

Boss Finley

Boss Finley, the father of Heavenly and Tom Junior, a caricature of a “redneck” pre-civil rights politician. His concern for his daughter stems from his fear of what gossip about her will do to his election campaign. He has bullied his son into complete compliance; even his mistress, Miss Lucy, has neither respect nor love for him. As Heavenly reminds him, it was he who drove the young, clean Chance away years ago because he wanted his daughter to marry an older man from whom he hoped to profit. His character becomes clear when he tells his daughter how he had bought her mother a diamond clip as she lay dying—to prove to her that she was going to recover—and then had gotten a refund before the funeral.

Miss Lucy

Miss Lucy, Boss Finley’s mistress for years. She is disloyal to him, secretly encouraging the Heckler, who has interrupted Finley’s youth rallies before, by asking questions about Heavenly’s operation. She tries unsuccessfully to urge Chance to escape his fated castration by leaving with the princess while he has the opportunity.

Aunt Nonnie

Aunt Nonnie, the sister of Heavenly’s dead mother, dependent on Boss, who had a part in the original love affair between Chance and Heavenly. Now she reminds Chance that time has passed for Heavenly, too, and that nothing can come of his “plans” for them to win a Youth Search in Hollywood. She warns him to leave St. Cloud while he can.

Heavenly Finley

Heavenly Finley, Chance’s sweetheart, who blames her father for much of what has happened to her. She does, however, appear at his side in “virginal white” at his television rally and has agreed to marry Dr. George Scudder, although she threatens going into a convent. She is a very weak person whose only chance for happiness ended when she was not allowed to marry her young lover.

Tom Finley, Jr.

Tom Finley, Jr., Heavenly’s brother, a wild young man whose...

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indiscretions have been paid for by his father.

Dr. George Scudder

Dr. George Scudder, the chief surgeon at St. Cloud Hospital, which was put up by Boss Finley. He operated on Heavenly and will marry her, but he wants nothing to do with plans for the castration, even though he agrees in principle that it is deserved.


Hatcher, the assistant manager of the Royal Palms Hotel, who tries without success to get the princess to leave St. Cloud.

The Heckler

The Heckler, who has taken a number of beatings but continues to appear whenever Boss Finley holds a rally.


Scotty and


Bud, former friends of Chance. They participate with Tom Junior in the final coup de grâce at the end of the play.


Stuff, a bartender in the hotel who remembers Chance from the old days and hates him.


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Bud Bud is a St. Cloud local who used to be friendly with Chance. When Bud and friends see Chance in the hotel cocktail lounge, Bud is rather mean. Like others, he doubts much of what Chance says about himself. At the end of the play, Bud helps Tom Junior with Chance’s implied castration.

Charles Charles is a servant in the Finley household.

Alexandra del Lago See Princess Kosmonopolis.

Heavenly Finley Heavenly Finley is the daughter of Boss Finley and sister of Tom Junior. She is also the object of Chance Wayne’s obsession. She and Chance were lovers until she contracted a sexually transmitted disease from him. Left unchecked, it led to her having a hysterectomy at a young age. Heavenly still resents the fact that her father would not let her marry Chance before he became corrupted. Despite her problems, Chance still looks at Heavenly as the symbol of his lost youth—one that he desperately wants to recapture but never does.

Tom Finley, Junior Tom Junior is the son of Boss Finley and brother of Heavenly Finley. Like his father, he is a politician. Tom Junior does not have the power of his father, but has organized the Youth for Boss Finley club. He also acts in his father’s interests in other ways. Tom Junior leads the activities to get Chance Wayne out of town. When Boss Finley gives him free reign, Tom Junior intends to castrate Chance as revenge if Chance will not leave town. At the end of the play, it seems likely this event will occur, as Chance refuses to leave.

Boss Tom J. Finley Boss Finley is a leading political figure in St. Cloud and the father of Tom Junior and Heavenly. Finley is a harsh, domineering man, and he is incensed that Chance has returned to town. Finley would not let Chance and Heavenly marry several years ago, which contributed to Chance’s life choices and indirectly led to Heavenly’s disease. Though Finley is protective of his daughter, he has also tried to marry her off to many older men. Finley enjoys having power over others.

Fly Fly is an African-American hotel waiter who serves coffee and Bromo to Chance at the beginning of Sweet Bird of Youth. Chance promises him a big tip because Fly remembers Chance from happier times. In act 2, scene 2, Fly delivers a message to Chance, who only gives it a cursory glance.

Dan Hatcher Hatcher is the assistant manager of the Royal Palms Hotel in St. Cloud, Florida, where Princess Kosmonopolis and Chance Wayne are staying and where Boss Finley’s political rally is held. Hatcher is the one who informs George Scudder that Chance has checked into the hotel. Hatcher works with the Finley family to get Chance to leave the hotel and the town.

The Heckler The Heckler is a hillbilly who attends Boss Finley’s political rallies and asks questions to expose his hypocrisy. Miss Lucy facilitates his admission into the rally at the Royal Palms Hotel. He asks his question, which concerns the operation that Heavenly Finley underwent. After he asks it, he is beaten up.

Princess Kosmonopolis Princess Kosmonopolis is the alias of middleaged actress Alexandra del Lago, a central character of the play. She is ashamed of her life as an aging starlet and embarrassed by her latest work. At the beginning of the play, the Princess does not know who Chance is or where they are.

The Princess slowly remembers that Chance is her driver/gigolo. She does not want to be left alone but knows that while Chance has been taking care of her, he wants something in return. Chance wants her to get him a studio contract; a means for getting Heavenly out of town; and material symbols of success to show off to the locals. Though the Princess gives him the first and last temporarily, this does not change Chance’s destiny.

The Princess tries to help Chance get out of town, but he will not leave. Like Chance, the Princess is afraid of aging and the effects of time, but she is more realistic about her situation than Chance is about his.

Miss Lucy Miss Lucy is the mistress of Boss Finley. She lives in the hotel in a room paid for by him. Finley’s power over her is important to him. When he learns that she has said he is too old to have sex, he hurts her fingers by snapping a jewelry box on them. For this, Miss Lucy takes revenge by enabling The Heckler to get inside the rally. While she wants him to hurt Boss Finley, she is not fully comfortable with The Heckler’s implied attack on Heavenly. Miss Lucy is one of the many people who tell Chance that he should not be in town, and she offers to take him to the airport.

Aunt Nonnie Aunt Nonnie is the sister of Chance Wayne’s dead mother, though she now seems to work and/or live with the Finleys. It was she who encouraged and facilitated the previous relationship between Heavenly and Chance, a fact that Boss Finley resents. Nonnie tries to get Chance to leave town. She also begs Boss Finley and Tom Junior not to resort to violence against Chance. It is Nonnie who realizes that Chance’s obsessions with Heavenly and with acting are symptoms of a futile desire to return to his pure youthful state.

Scotty Scotty is a St. Cloud local who used to be friendly with Chance. When Scotty and friends run into Chance in the hotel cocktail lounge, Scotty is rather cold. He doubts much of what Chance says about himself. At the end of the play, Scotty helps Tom Junior with Chance’s implied castration.

George Scudder George Scudder is a doctor in St. Cloud and the chief of staff at the local hospital. He performed the operation on Heavenly after her sexually transmitted disease ran rampant. Scudder also is allegedly Heavenly Finley’s future husband. Though Scudder owes much to the Finley family, it is he who comes to Chance at the beginning of the play to learn his intentions and warn him of the trouble he faces. Scudder informs Chance that his mother has died and that Heavenly has had troubles since Chance last saw her. Scudder had tried previously to notify Chance about both matters, but Chance was impossible to track down. When Tom Junior wants Scudder to be part of his plans to take revenge on Chance, Scudder declines because it might jeopardize his career.

Stuff Stuff is the bartender in the Royal Palms Hotel’s cocktail lounge. He has held this job for only a short time, having previously worked as a soda jerk at a drugstore. Though Stuff once admired Chance, he is now a member of the Youth for Boss Finley club. It is he who tells Tom Junior what Miss Lucy says about Boss Finley’s inability to have sex. This gets Finley’s mistress in trouble and leads to revenge by Finley.

Chance Wayne Chance Wayne is one of the central characters in the play. He has returned to his hometown of St. Cloud to see his mother and to take his girlfriend, Heavenly, away to Hollywood. Chance has arrived under difficult circumstances. He is now twentynine years old, and his primary occupation is gigolo. When Chance originally left St. Cloud, it was to be an actor. While he has had some opportunities, he has been unable to capitalize on them. Chance had better luck making love to rich New York socialites, a life to which he returned after a stint in the Navy and recovery from a breakdown.

Because Chance’s lifestyle made it hard to find him, he does not know that his mother has died and that Heavenly has suffered a devastating loss because of a sexually transmitted disease that he gave her on one of his previous visits. Though Chance still loves Heavenly, he is clueless about the effects his actions have had on her and on the town.

Chance has also come to St. Cloud to prove to everyone that he is a success. While Chance is obsessed with recapturing his fading youth, he also has some compassion for the Princess. At the end, Chance will not leave town despite repeated warnings that he will be harmed (castrated) if he remains.




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