Sweet Bird of Youth

by Tennessee Williams

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How does unfulfilled desire and personal failure affect the characters in Sweet Bird of Youth?

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Tennessee Williams’s play presents an array of characters who are stymied in some way from realizing their desires. Some of them experience this frustration as failure and cannot move past it, while others manage to pull free and move forward. Although the Sweet Bird of Youth always flies away, Williams reminds us, the ability to detach from the past is crucial.

The relationships that Chance has with the townspeople, especially with Heavenly and with the Princess, reveal his inability to move forward. While his own personality and behavior lead to his downfall, Heavenly’s father also plays a key role in destroying him. Chance professes a continued belief in true love and stardom, but his actions do not correspond with his words. Heavenly seems ready at last to move forward, as contracting an STD from Chance soured her on their relationship, but his return interferes with her plan. Her father, Boss Finley, contributes to the problem because his desire for her happiness was also stuck in the past; it depended on his erroneous image of her purity. Despite having achieved power and material success, Finley is a failure on the moral level, as shown by his instigating an attack on Chance.

For much of the play, the Princess seems to cling to the past. Having chosen a career that worships youth, she acknowledges that her fame is largely behind her. At the end, her ability to move forward and accept a role as an older woman resources her from failure, as contrasted to certain disaster for Chance.

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Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams revolves around the themes of unfulfilled desire and personal failure.  The two major characters Chance and Princess Kosmonopolis both share personal stories about their lost dreams.  Chance has destroyed the connection that he had with his one true love Heavenly by giving her a venereal disease that ultimately results in her having a hysterectomy.  She says that her having to live life childless has robbed her of her youth; and as a result, Chance is left without much of his own youth.  His "acting" career has gone no where, so he has had to resort to acts of prostitution to make money.  No matter what Chance's good intentions are, he struggles to move past his lost dreams.

Similarly, Princess Kosmonopolis cannot move past her failures.  She was once a well known actress; however, her age has moved her out of the limelight.  Rather than accept this as the nature of the business in Hollywood, Princess Kosmonopolis tries to fight against the trend with little success.  She does manage to land a role, but her success is only temporary.  Chance and Princess Kosmonopolis find some sense of connection in their struggles with their lost hopes and dreams.

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