Buried Child Analysis
by Sam Shepard

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The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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Buried Child begins with a darkened stage, gradually brightened by the light from an upright lamp and a large, old-fashioned television set, which gives off a flickering blue light but no image or sound. The light reveals Dodge, sitting on a worn-out sofa, dressed in an old tee shirt, khaki work pants, and brown slippers, covered by an old brown blanket. Next to the sofa is the lamp and a small night table with several bottles of pills on it. Dodge, thin and sickly-looking, stares at the television as more light fills the stage. It is day, and there is the sound of light rain. Behind the sofa is a large, screened-in porch. An old wooden staircase with frayed carpeting on the steps leads up and offstage. A screen door leads from the porch to the outside, a solid interior door leads to the kitchen (offstage). Dodge drinks from a bottle of whiskey hidden under a sofa cushion, then begins coughing, first quietly then more loudly. He stifles his coughing when his wife, Halie, calls from offstage upstairs.

The old couple bicker about several seemingly trivial topics, Halie remaining out of the audience’s view, until Dodge calls Tilden in, apparently only to irritate Halie, who does not want him disturbed. Tilden enters from the kitchen, his arms loaded with fresh ears of corn that he has picked “out in back.” Tilden is in his late forties, dressed in muddy construction boots, work pants, plaid shirt, and faded windbreaker. He is wet from the rain and has a burned-out expression. Dodge begins to argue with him, denying that any corn grows out back. Tilden stares at him, then walks slowly over to him and dumps all the corn into his lap. He exits to the kitchen as Dodge angrily pushes all the corn off his lap onto the floor and sneaks another drink. He hides the bottle quickly as Tilden returns with a milking stool and a pail and begins husking the corn, throwing the husks and silk onto the floor and dropping the cleaned ears into the pail. They talk allusively about Tilden’s past in New Mexico and argue about whether Dodge has whiskey hidden in the sofa cushions, an argument occasionally joined by Halie, who is still offstage. As the discussion turns to the other sons, Bradley and Ansel, Halie enters slowly from the top of the stairs.

Halie is dressed entirely in black, as if in mourning. She remains entirely absorbed in a monologue about her dead son Ansel as she descends and then wanders about the room, not noticing the two men or the corn until she finishes speaking. After arguing with and threatening them, she leaves to have lunch with Father Dewis. Dodge puts on a baseball cap as protection against Bradley shaving his head (as he has apparently done before), then takes some pills and falls asleep on the couch. Tilden pulls the whiskey from under the cushion, takes a long drink, and puts the bottle in his pocket. He gathers the corn husks and gently spreads them all over Dodge’s body, completely covering him except for his head, then exits to the kitchen.

Bradley appears on the porch and enters through the screen door. He is a big man with muscular arms and shoulders, wearing a gray sweatshirt, baggy dark pants, and black janitor’s shoes. His left leg is wooden, having been amputated above the knee, and he walks with an exaggerated, almost mechanical limp, accompanied by squeaking sounds of leather and metal from the harness and hinges of the false leg. Bradley takes an electric hair clipper from his pocket, knocks away some of the corn husks, and pulls off Dodge’s cap. He switches on the clippers and, as the lights dim slowly to black, cuts Dodge’s hair while he sleeps.

Act 2 opens on the same set, now at night. Dodge is still asleep on the sofa, with his hair cut extremely short, his scalp cut and bleeding in places. The corn, husks, pail, and stool have been removed. The lights come up as Shelly laughs offstage and she and Vince appear outside the porch and enter. Shelly is nineteen, beautiful, wearing tight jeans,...

(The entire section is 5,352 words.)