How does Sam Shepard use postmodernism in Buried Child?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A significant aspect of Postmodernism is to offer a critique of the traditional meta- narrative structures.  Shepard's play uses this in several ways.  One way in which Postmodernism is used is in the setting. The traditional landscape of the rural and pastoral condition is critiqued by showing a decaying farm where nothing grows.  The idea that the land is barren is a Postmodern critique regarding the rural setting, one that traditionally has been seen as enriching and fulfilling.

The Postmodern focus is evident within the characterizations that Shepard offers as well.  The family life that Dodge and Hallie have created is far from the generational embrace of traditional roles and reverential positions. It is the embodiment of dysfunction.  In this setting, human emotion is not restorative, but reflective of bitterness and lost opportunity.  Shepard's treatment of Dodge is Postmodern, critiquing the idea of the patriarch who guides his family with the utmost of emotional sincerity:  ‘‘You think just because people propagate they have to love their offspring?...You never seen a bitch eat her puppies?’’  Dodge's characterization is a Postmodern rebuke of the family structure where the father embraces all and embodies a sense of unconditional love and hope.  

Shepard does not spare the matriarch, either, from his Postmodern critique. When Halie recalls, or fails to recall, her son's past, a Postmodern criticism is offered suggesting that a mother's love might not be transcendent:  "I had no idea in the world that Tilden would be so much trouble.  Who would’ve dreamed.  Tilden was an All American, don’t forget.  Don’t forget that.  Fullback.  Or quarterback.  I forget which."  Halie cannot recall her son's accomplishments.  They have fallen by the wayside as a result of memory, reflective of the Postmodern idea that nothing in human construction is absolute and totalizing.  The implied incestuous relationship between mother and son only adds to the Postmodern element in the drama's emotional dynamics.  Shepard uses Postmodernism as a means to accentuate the frailties of human connection and indicts the transcendent condition of the American Dream.  This metanarrative that guides what American families should be is challenged through the Postmodern lens that Shepard takes to it.

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