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In Sam Shepard's play Buried Child we witness the slow decomposition of the once-solid American Dream. We see this through the weaknesses of the characters, the progressive destitution of the middle classes, and the lack of bonding that once was the core of the American family.
The character of Ansel is perhaps the most representative of the three sub-topics mentioned above. Although Ansel is dead, and is merely mentioned in the play, we can deduct that his absence in the household has produced a scapegoat through which Ansel's extremely dysfunctional family can make wrong conjectures and create fantasies.
One of those fantasies is that the family, and things in general, would have been much better had Ansel not died. Ansel is a soldier that dies in the motel room which he shares with his bride. Although these circumstances are shady and beget the suspicion of Ansel having links with the mob, he gets an immediate vote of honor from his father who, like the play reads, would have built a statue of Ansel with a rifle in one hand. Ansel's talent for basketball is also exaggerated, apparently. Since he is dead now, it seems as if everything he did while he was alive prescribed for the entire family's well-being.
We know, however, that this is not the case. The whole family needs a major fix and it has nothing to do with Ansel. Yes, Ansel happens to be less ignorant, more mature, and a bit more centered than his other family members, but he still harbors secrets that nobody wants to uncover. This is because it is easier for a dysfunctional family to live in denial and blame something other than the current problems. It is also because it is even easier to pretend that the solution to their issues is already long lost. Why change, then?
Therefore, Ansel is not only one of the possible "buried children" talked about in the play. He is also a symbol of fragmentation in a family that is spiraling down and out of control.
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