What is the significance of the haircut at the end of Act 1?

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Sam Shepherd's work Buried Child is a powerful three-act play about a broken American family.

Dodge and Halie, the parents, are elderly. Dodge is in his 70s and Halie in her 60s. They have two grown sons: Tilden (a former baseball player who is a mental wreck), and Bradley, a one-legged sadist who bullies his father constantly. In Act 1, Dodge complains about Bradley and how he despises his son; he does not want Bradley to come and give him a haircut because it has only been two weeks since his last haircut. Also, the last time Bradley gave him a haircut, he claims that Bradley made him almost bald and the worst of it was that Dodge wasn't even awake for the haircut.

On the surface, the haircut is an act of bullying by Bradley, but it is also a symbol of the impotent powerlessness of Dodge to stem the breakdown of his family life. The haircut foreshadows the death of Dodge in Act 3; he dies on the same couch he is lying on in Act 1. He dies in impotent fury that his wife is an adulteress and hypocritical woman, while he has been robbed of comfort from his sons in his old age. His soul is tormented at the knowledge that he was responsible for drowning a child, Halie's baby. Shepherd's play is an indictment of the men he grew up around. They were mostly violent alcoholics, unable to function as capable men within a traditional family structure.

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