Sam Shepard?S “The Buried Child” Essay, Research Paper
In Sam Shepard?s The Buried Child there are numerous twists and turns that have the reader spinning and wanting more. Shepard develops a play that has a plethora of illusions, not only towards such works as Oedipus Rex, where he includes the theme of incest. He has also incorporated symbolic emasculation and Native American symbols of renewal with the abundance of vegetables in the backyard.
At first glance, Buried Child seems as a typical Middle American family. Dodges one-track alcoholic mind, Halie?s pestering personality and Tilden?s distant relationship with his father all seems relatively typical of an elderly Middle America family. However, this is far from being the truth.
The play begins with Dodge (in his seventies) sounding as if he is close to death. He has a hacking cough, which gives the impression that he is extremely ill. Shepherd is alluding to the fact that Dodge is not merely sick physically, but also mentally. The cough is a way to show this sickness in a way where people can see the progression of his illness throughout the play.
The introduction of Tilden, Dodge?s son, is quite bizarre; he enters the house with an armful of corn and drops it at his father?s feet. The power of this message will be noticed farther into the play. Shephard is signifying life and death wrapped in one, When Tilden brought the corn in from the back yard his father looked at him and told him to give the corn back, thinking he had stolen it. Dodge said, “I haven’t planted corn back there since 1935, so take that damn corn back form where ever you got it”. Yet, Tilden maintains that the entire back yard is filled with tall stalks of corn, carrots and potatoes. It is almost as if Tilden is being represented as the Native American Corn God, who could bring life to fields that were supposed to be dead, which is puzzling since at first glance Tilden seems to be severely incompetent. He is living with his parents after getting in some sort of trouble in New Mexico and Halie, his mother, is abnormally protective of him, to the point where he is not allowed to do or say anything without the consent of Her or Dodge.
Halie (Dodge’s wife, and in her mid-sixties) is constantly worrying about Tilden. It appears as though this is far more than a mother being protective of her children. It is as though she views him as being a little boy incapable of taking care of himself. Furthermore, Halie meeting with the communities minister to talk about a statue for her son Ansal who is dead; is somewhat disturbing. She is dressed in a black vale, long black gloves that go up to her elbows and a long black dress. It is as if she is going to a funeral for her lost son, instead of going to lunch with the minister to have a good time and talk about recognizing her son.
In addition, the reader hears about the last son, Bradley, he has had a serious accident with a chain saw where he cut of his leg. This has strong symbolic meaning of emasculation. Not much is know about Bradley in the beginning of the play except of his amputation, he is the younger of the two sons and he comes over to cut Dodge’s hair.
By the time the beginning is over the reader should be able to see that something is wrong with the make up of this family. The fa?ade that is being played out by Halie and Dodge will soon be lifted. There is no one thing that stands out as being absolutely absurd but there are subtle hints that allows the reader to know that there is far more to this story than meets the eye, and only time will tell the truth.
The turning point of this play comes out of the dark. It is when Tilden’s Son comes to visit his family. He comes with his Girlfriend and after a six-year absence; he is trying to mend his broken ties with his family. The problem however, is that not one of his ?family? members recognize him at all. It is here when the reader is able to fully realize how warped this family is.
As Vince enters the house with his girl friend Shelly the first thing that Dodge says is, ?Did you bring the Whiskey?? This question has Vince puzzled for he has literally just arrived at the house; he says to Dodge, ?I just got here grandpa.? What comes next is even more bizarre. Dodge starts to interrogate Vince, ?You left? You went outside after we told you not to.?
This may be Dodge having a slight memory relapse, since Vince is Tilden?s son there is more than likely a strong physical resemblance. However, this is short lived after Vince says, ?You remember me??
Dodge replies, ?I have never seen you before until now.? Suddenly Tilden enters the room with an armful of carrots and sees Vince. Once again, Vince is completely unrecognized. He looks Tilden, his father, in the eye and says, ? Dad it is me Vince, Dad, it is me your son Vince.?
Tilden responds with a cold but mellow tone, ?I had a son once, but we buried him.? These words foreshadow major events to come. It serves as the inciting incident because it is where the problem of the play begins. The point when Vince realizes that not a soul in his family remembers his face.
There are a number of major complications in this play. Each one has contributions to the quality and effectiveness of the play. For example, the introduction of Bradley to the reader seemed to be at first the one person who is normal in the family, perhaps the one person who is keeping the family together. Nevertheless, Shepard quickly ends that thought when Bradley reaches down Shelly?s mouth, Vince?s girlfriend; this is a symbolic gesture for the violation of the body. It is another event where the reader is able to see that this family has serious problems. Shortly after Bradley violates Shelly Halie now is reintroduced to the play. However, instead of being dressed in all black attire, she is wearing a bright yellow dress and the sun is shinning in the sky. She enters the room only to see Shelly, Dodge, and Bradley all sleeping in the living room; there is now sign of Vince or Tilden.
As the play progresses Shelly begins to learn more about the family, she learns that there was a third child but something happened to it. Dodge has done something to it. After a long discussion with in front of the entire family, she comes to find that Tilden has slept with his mother and had a child by the name of Ansal. The Child was later drowned by Dodge and then buried in the back yard. The family has kept this secret for sixteen-years.
As the truth finally unfolds there is a weight that is lifted off the shoulders of many, especially Dodge. He is able to die with a sense of relief even though he still bears the pain of having murdered a child he is able to die knowing that he has told someone the families awful secret. After Dodge discloses this secret to Shelly, the reader understands why Tilden has turned into a shell of a man. He loved his first child with all of his heart and when Dodge took the child from him and murdered it he was not able to fill the void in his life, not even with Vince his legitimate child, is Tilden able to live. At the end of the play, Tilden disappears, where the reader is left to figure out what happened, perhaps he committed suicide, or he left to dig up the babies grave, which ever it is Tilden is gone from the lives of those people forever. Vince reappears inebriated to a house, which is nearly dead. Dodge is lying on the coach waiting to die, Bradley is sprawled on the floor and Halie sees Vince and she is the only one who recognizes him and she says, ?Vince it is you, I always said you were my guardian angel looking down upon me.? It is a sign that Vince is going to be the one who is now going to take care of them, he is the one that is going to be able to start the family over again in a positive direction.
The ending of this play has closes on a positive note. The rain finally stops the sun is shinning, Dodge’s cough is gone and he is able to rest eternally in a state of relief. Halie finally feels as though she hasn’t committed a sin that will send her to hell; Vince has come back to start a new life, Tilden finds himself and does whatever it is he had to do. Shepard created an ending which the world could appreciate its simplicity yet complications. A true master at work.
The Bedford Introduction to Drama third edition:by Lee A. Jacobus