A Lie of the Mind Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind explores the structure of the American family as well as the delusions, the “lies of the mind,” that individuals construct both for each other and for themselves. Beth, who inhabits a world of self-created delusion and who is unable to communicate her ideas and needs to others, exemplifies the prevailing inadequacy of human nature. Unable to respond coherently to the world around her because of the brain damage she suffered when Jake beat her, Beth creates lies of the mind—fictions that permit her to survive. The play suggests that each character assembles a personal version of reality in his or her mind, and that those perceptions are locked in individual skulls. Lorraine blocks out the pain of being abandoned by her husband by pretending indifference; Baylor hides from his family by erecting a facade of the crusty frontier hunter; Jake erases all his memories of the race in Mexico that led to his father’s death. The play suggests that the characters create solitary worlds of “pretend,” that “reality” is a composite of discrete—and often contradictory—perceptions.

The significance of the action in A Lie of the Mind is conveyed by various examples of disjunction that emphasize the individual’s isolation. As Beth’s words indicate, one character’s thoughts cannot be fully communicated to another: “You don’t know this thought. How? How can you know this thought? In me.” The...

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