Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The issues of conformity, individuality, and self-identity serve as the primary themes developed in The Tooth of Crime. Through the aging (at least in rock and roll terms) figure of Hoss, Sam Shepard displays the results of working within a system and conforming one’s identity to the system to do so. Hoss has adapted to the restraints of the game so extensively that he has grown to fit the rules. Although he functions as a solo killer, he has remained a pawn in the larger game by voluntarily abrogating his self-responsibility in exchange for the stardom that is granted to those who are willing to make this trade. Hoss’s entourage reinforces this abdication of selfhood by acting as parasites who further drain him of self-direction and growth. “I’m not a true Marker no more,” Hoss laments; he has become an “industry.”

Crow provides a youthful contrast to this conformist. He, unlike Hoss, is not willing to relinquish his identity in order to achieve stardom according to the dictates of the game. Crow remains faithful to himself, offering a model of self-direction that even Hoss grows to envy and wants to emulate at the end of the play. Thus, the triumph of the individual over the conforming system becomes an important theme.

The explorations of their characters during the preparation for the combat and the ensuing duel help to further distinguish the two Markers as they define the perimeters of their identities. Hoss adopts...

(The entire section is 466 words.)