The Play

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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...

(This entire section contains 1961 words.)

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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, high heels, a purple tee shirt, and a short rabbit fur coat. Her makeup is exaggerated and her black hair is curled. Vince, Tilden’s son, is about twenty-two, wears a plaid shirt, jeans, dark glasses, and cowboy boots, and carries a black saxophone case. Shelly laughs and giggles uncontrollably as they pause on the porch, Vince hesitating to enter after his absence of six years. They enter, and Vince sets down his saxophone case and goes up the stairs and offstage.

Shelly picks up Dodge’s cap, puts it on, takes it off, and then touches one of the cuts in his scalp, waking him abruptly. He snatches the cap away and puts it on. She nervously explains that they were stopping by on their way to New Mexico to see Tilden and calls for Vince. He descends and addresses Dodge as “Grandpa,” but Dodge seems not to recognize him. Dodge becomes argumentative and then insulting as they become more nervous and disoriented. He searches for the whiskey, fails to find it, and calls for Tilden. Tilden enters from the kitchen as before, this time with his arms full of carrots. He just stares at Vince and Shelly, showing no signs of recognition.

Dodge tries to persuade anyone to get him another bottle of whiskey. Tilden gives the carrots to Shelly, who stands there holding them while he goes back to the kitchen for a pail and knife. Vince tries to knock the carrots out of her arms, but she turns away, protecting them. Tilden returns with the stool, pail, and a knife, and Shelly sits and begins cutting the ends off the carrots, peeling them, and dropping them into the pail. Vince persists, unsuccessfully, in his attempts to get Dodge and Tilden to recognize him by reenacting former activities. Frustrated and confused, Vince takes some money and goes to buy Dodge some whiskey.

Shelly, Dodge, and Tilden talk disconnectedly about several topics, and Tilden takes her coat, begins caressing it, and tells her about a baby that Dodge killed and buried, an event that had been alluded to cryptically in act 1 by Dodge in speaking to Halie. Dodge becomes furious and tries to walk toward Tilden to stop him, but falls on the floor. The squeaking of Bradley’s leg is heard, and he enters by the porch. Bradley takes Shelly’s coat from Tilden and drives him out of the room. He makes Shelly open her mouth and puts his fingers into it; after a pause, he pulls them out. He crosses to Dodge, still on the floor, and drops the coat over him so that it covers his head. Bradley looks at Shelly and smiles as the lights black out.

Act 3 opens the next morning. The lights rise slowly to the sound of birds. The rain has stopped and the sun is out. The carrots, pail, and stool are gone. Bradley is asleep on the sofa under Dodge’s blanket, his wooden leg and its shoe leaning against the sofa. Dodge is sitting on the floor, propped up against the television, wearing his baseball cap and Shelly’s coat over his shoulders, weaker and more disoriented. Shelly enters from the kitchen with a cup of steaming broth on a saucer, which she offers to Dodge. He refuses it; she sits at the bottom of the stairs and drinks it. She has spent the night in Halie’s room and questions Dodge about the pictures in the room, especially about one of Halie, much younger, holding a baby and looking at it “like it didn’t even belong to her.”

Halie’s laugh is heard and she enters by the porch with Father Dewis. She is wearing a bright yellow dress and her arms are full of yellow roses. He is dressed in a traditional black suit and a white clerical collar and shirt. Both are slightly drunk and feeling giddy. Dodge pulls Shelly’s coat over his head as they enter. Halie whips the coat off and throws it over Bradley’s leg, then whips the blanket off Bradley and throws it on Dodge, who hides his head under it. Bradley wakes up and tries helplessly to reach the blanket as Shelly remains on the stairs and looks on. Halie gropes in Father Dewis’s pockets, finds a silver flask of whiskey, and drinks from it as she talks about Ansel and the past. She throws a rose gently onto Dodge’s blanket. It lands between his knees and stays there. Bradley pulls the blanket from Dodge and covers himself with it.

Shelly, who until now has been passive, suddenly throws the cup and saucer against the kitchen door, smashing them, and then grabs Bradley’s wooden leg and takes it away, clutching it to her chest “as though she’s kidnapped it.” She interrogates the family and finally draws from Dodge the story of the family secret. Six years after she and Dodge had stopped sleeping together, Halie got pregnant and had a baby boy. Dodge drowned it.

At this point Vince comes crashing through the screen porch door, tearing it off its hinges. He is drunk and sings as he takes empty booze bottles out of a bag and smashes them on the porch. Now all of the family members recognize Vince, but he fails to recognize them. Shelly drops the leg at the foot of the stairs and picks up the saxophone case to leave, but Vince pulls out a big hunting knife and cuts a hole in the porch screen over the sofa and climbs through it onto the sofa, knocking Bradley onto the floor. Dewis drops the roses beside the wooden leg and escorts Halie upstairs and offstage. Shelly goes out the door to the porch; Bradley crawls toward his wooden leg. As Dodge begins reciting his last will and testament, Vince strides around the room, taking possession. He keeps pushing the leg away from Bradley and carries the roses around, smelling them. Shelly sets the saxophone case inside through the hole in the screen and exits from the porch. Vince throws the leg after her and Bradley crawls offstage after it. Vince pulls the blanket off him as he goes. Dewis comes down and exits off the porch.

Vince watches them all leave, smells the roses, and turns to Dodge, who is now lying dead on the floor. Vince covers him with the blanket and sits on the sofa staring at him. After a long pause, he places the roses on Dodge’s chest, then lies on the sofa staring at the ceiling, his body in the same position as Dodge’s. Halie’s voice comes down the stairs, addressing Dodge, as the lights begin to dim almost imperceptibly. She sees corn out the back window—the fields are now full of crops, “like a paradise.” As Halie keeps talking offstage, Tilden appears from the porch, muddy from the knees and elbows down. He carries the corpse of a small child, largely consisting of bones wrapped in muddy, rotten cloth. As Halie’s voice continues and the lights fade, he climbs the stairs, never looking away from the corpse. She finishes her speech to Dodge as Tilden disappears above and the lights go black, talking about the rain and the crops out back: “It’s a miracle, Dodge. I’ve never seen a crop like this in my whole life. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the sun.”

Dramatic Devices

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Although the setting is scrupulously realistic, Sam Shepard relies on the symbolism of his props and actions as much as words to tell his stories, and the burying of Dodge under husks by Tilden both reenacts Dodge’s burying of the child (perhaps Tilden’s) and foreshadows Tilden’s exhumation of the child at the play’s end. Halie’s emotional estrangement from the rest of the family is as clear from her frequent delivery of her lines from offstage as it is from the lines themselves, and her entirely black mourning outfit further symbolizes the point that her family is dead to her, and perhaps has been since the sacrifice of the buried child. By extension, her appearance in the last act in bright yellow clothing with her arms full of yellow roses, emblems of passion, may be seen as an element of the movement toward hope at the end of the play. She does, however, leave the roses downstairs and finishes offstage (upstairs) where she began; the ending of the play is again ambivalent.

The struggle to transfer power from one generation to the next is also told visually, in images of castration: Bradley cutting off Dodge’s hair, Vince in turn taking away Bradley’s (phallic) leg. Dodge’s impotence had been anticipated by his position prone on the couch and his burial under the corn husks, Bradley’s by the amputation he had already suffered. The perversion of other natural emotional relations is similarly suggested through actions and properties—Tilden symbolically molesting Shelly as he strokes her fur coat, and Bradley symbolically raping her when he forces his fingers into her mouth, with Shelly then revenging herself by taking away Bradley’s leg. More generally, the darkness and rain of the first two acts are replaced by the bright sun of the final act (as Halie’s black dress has been replaced by yellow): As the rain has resulted in new growth, symbolic force is given to the suggestion that death will somehow always be replaced by new life.

The buried child is itself a powerful visual symbol, especially for an unprepared audience in a realistic production, when Tilden carries in the rotten shroud covered with mud at the end. Vince has just put the blanket over Dodge’s head and placed the roses on his chest, and this juxtaposition of an exhumation immediately following a funeral prepares the audience to see Vince in his role as the link between the two events. He is the “sun” (son) of Halie’s closing monologue, the risen son who will replace the buried child, and also the new father figure who will replace Dodge, having just taken Dodge’s original position on the couch.

Historical Context

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In many ways, Buried Child exists outside of time and apart from history. The plot of the play is the ages-old, familiar story of youth overthrowing age, intertwined with murder and incest, death and resurrection—terrible human impulses that have shocked and fascinated audiences for thousands of years. The play's characters are mainly archetypal figures, recognizable from centuries of stories and myths scattered across cultures and around the globe. Still, Shepard's family drama is anchored in a particular place and a particular age—1970s America—and this environment, if not directly obvious in the play, certainly influenced the playwright and his work.

Although practically any era can be called an age of turbulent politics for one reason or another, the 1970s were particularly difficult and painful for the United States. The decade saw the end of the painful Vietnam War which altered a great many Americans' perception of war as an unsavory but noble effort. It was also during this era that the country developed a cynicism toward the democratic process and the people it elevates to its highest offices. This cast of doubt has plagued American politics ever since. The problem evolved from a series of unsuccessful presidents, corruption in public offices, and disastrous domestic and foreign policies.

In 1974, Republican President Richard M. Nixon, once a widely popular leader with daring foreign policy ideas, was forced to resign from the executive office in the wake of the “Watergate” scandal. Watergate involved illegal break-ins, wire taps, and subversion of the constitution for the cause of furthering Nixon's political career while simultaneously discrediting his enemies (a noted paranoid figure, Nixon was known to keep an “enemies list” that kept track of those who had in some way aggrieved him).

Nixon was succeeded by his vice president, Gerald Ford. Ford's brief term of office is remembered primarily for the mistakes Americans felt he made. He pardoned Nixon for any criminal offenses he may have committed in relation to Watergate, and he granted limited amnesty to Vietnam War draft evaders and military deserters. While both acts were meant to help the country heal old wounds and recover momentum, Ford was seen as a weak president, and Americans felt he had betrayed them. In 1976, Ford campaigned for the office he had inherited from Nixon and was defeated by Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Although he has since become a popular and effective negotiator and ambassador for the United States, Carter's presidency was afflicted with errors of judgment and bad fortune. The country experienced a terrible energy crisis during the late-1970s, leading Carter to encourage conservation of electricity and heating oil and causing gasoline rationing across the country. In 1977, Carter signed away the Panama Canal. Although the deal had been planned since the canal's construction a hundred years before, it was news to most of the country, who blamed the loss on Carter.

Finally, in the midst of an economic crisis and mounting domestic discontent, Carter's administration suffered a terrible foreign policy debacle. Because the United States agreed to harbor the Shah of Iran during his political exile in 1979, Iranian militants, led by the Muslim extremist Ayatollah Khomeini, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took more than fifty hostages. Carter approved a rescue mission that failed, resulting in more bad press for the president. His shame was compounded when the captives weren't released until more than a year later, when Republican Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.

While Buried Child has nothing to do directly with macro-politics, the sense of abandonment, helplessness, and cynicism many Americans felt in the 1970s is apparent in the micro-cosmic world of the play. The past, for this dangerously disturbed Midwestern family, was infinitely better than the present, and no one seems quite willing to stake much on what the future might hold. Any hope Bradley might have presented for a normal, productive life was cut short, literally, when he lost his leg. Tilden, Halie reports, was once an All-American halfback destined for greatness. Now he is an ex-convict with a shattered psyche and a tremendous burden of guilt. The unseen Ansel was next on his mother's pedestal. He was ‘‘the smart one,’’ prepared to succeed where his brothers had failed. But he, too, lost his struggle against the barbaric world outside, and was killed in a hotel room on the night of his honeymoon. (Yet each of the sons' falls from greatness, save Bradley, could merely be fiction, since it is known that Ansel never reached adulthood. It can be construed that Tilden's accomplishments exist only in his mother's mind as well.)

One at a time, each member of the family stumbles forward, only to be driven back by catastrophe. Dodge summarizes their experiences in this bleak American landscape when he chides Shelly, ‘‘You're all alike, you hopers. If it's not God then it's a man. If it's not a man then it's a woman. If it's not a woman then it's politics or bee pollen or the future of some kind. Some kind of future.’’

While Shepard's characters were facing grim prospects in the America of the 1970s, the playwright himself was thriving in the burgeoning world of Off-Broadway theatre. Developed in the late-1960s and early-1970s as an alternative to the high-priced, predictable, popular entertainment offered by the mainstream Broadway scene, Off-Broadway was a collection of smaller, less expensive, often experimental theatres where the work of new playwrights, like Shepard and Arthur Kopit (Oh Dad, Poor Dad … ), could be given a chance at production and a live audience. In an interview with Theatre Quarterly, Shepard once described the exhilaration he felt as a developing artist in this era:

On the lower East Side there was a special sort of culture developing. You were so close to the people who were going to the plays, there was really no difference between you and them—your own experience was their experience, so that you began to develop that consciousness of what was happening … I mean nobody knew what was happening, but there was a sense that something was going on. People were arriving from Texas and Arkansas in the middle of New York City, and a community was being established. It was a very exciting time.

Literary Style

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Symbolism In literature, a symbol is something that represents something else. Symbols are often used to communicate deeper levels of meaning. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel The Scarlet Letter, for example, the red letter “A” worn by Hester Prynne is a symbol not only of her supposed crime (adultery) but also of her neighbors' bigotry and her own courageous pride. Buried Child, like most of Shepard's plays, is suffused with symbolism, which he uses to communicate deeper, though sometimes ambiguous, levels of meaning to his audiences.

Some of the strongest symbols in Buried Child are related to nature and fertility and reinforce the play's central image: the dead, buried child in the field. The vegetables Tilden continuously carries into the house are one such symbol. Crops have not been raised on the family farm for many years. In all that time, the fields have gone unplanted and have grown over with weeds and scrub brush. Still, Tilden manages to harvest the fallow fields, just as he was capable of conceiving a child with his own middle-aged mother years before (it is suggested that Halie was past menopause, and therefore fallow herself, when her tryst with Tilden occurred). Realistically, his harvest is nonsensical, but as a symbol, it complements his dreadful act of incest and illustrates his obsession with his lost child, his need to pull life from the dead ground.

The rain and sunshine that fall on the farm near the beginning and end of the play are also essential ingredients to understanding the play's deeper, partially obscured meanings. Rain and water have always been symbols of cleansing and purification, thus their use in baptismal ceremonies of the Christian church. At the beginning of Buried Child, a soft rain falls on the family's farmhouse and all its visitors, washing away the dirt and the smell and, symbolically, the sins of their past. By the third act, which takes place the following morning, the sun is shining brightly, birds are singing, and a new day, literally and figuratively, has dawned. The sunshine brings crops back to the fields and a new leader to the recently purified house. Dodge dies, Bradley is ejected, and Vince assumes the mantle of family head.

While there are several other objects that may function as minor symbols in the play, such as Bradley's wooden leg, Dodge's baseball cap, and the blanket on the sofa, the most obvious and important one is the dead child itself, which oddly might offer some hope in this otherwise grim drama. Doris Auerbach, in Sam Shepard, Arthur Kopit, and the Off Broadway Theatre, noted, “The play ends like a miracle play with the symbol of the resurrection. The child is taken from the tomb, tended by its father and carried up, not to the patriarchal figure who lies dead on stage before us, but to the mother who is waiting above. Buried Child leaves the audience with hope for a revitalized America, for one that nourishes its children and holds the promise of the American dream once again.’’

Archetypes An archetype is an original—the pattern for all that follows. Throughout his career, Shepard has dealt with mythic subjects and archetypal characters in his plays, lending his work a sense of mystery, ritual, and atavistic purpose. In Buried Child, nearly all the characters are archetypes of one kind or another. Dodge, the aged patriarch of the family, is the archetypal domineering father figure who threatens, rather than nurtures, his children and ultimately must be overthrown. His type of character has appeared in the stories humans tell since time out of mind, from Oedipus's father, Laius, to Shakespeare's King Lear.

Each of the men in Buried Child represents some type of tragic son figure. Tilden, like Oedipus, lusted after his mother, even conceiving a child with her. Bradley suffers the humiliation of the male fear of castration, bearing a wooden leg as a symbol of his anxiety and attempting to compensate for his terror by bullying everyone around him. The long dead Ansel has been made into the heroic figure he never was by his mother, much like Willie Loman idealizes Biff and Happy in Death of a Salesman. Vince returns home with the expectations of the long-lost prodigal son and emerges as a conquering hero figure. As strange and frightening as these characters' actions become in the play, they always seem at least a little familiar to the viewer because of the archetypes they represent.

Compare and Contrast

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  • 1978: On April 17, trading on the New York Stock Exchange reaches a record single-day volume of 63.5 million shares. On November 1, the Dow Jones industrial average soars 35.34 points, a record-breaking advance for a single day of trading.

    Today: Trading on the New York Stock Exchange is often ten times the volume of two decades ago, with over 600 million shares changing hands on a single day. Single day rises and drops of hundreds of points at a time are becoming common. In March of 1999, the Dow average closes above 10,000 points for the first time in history.

  • 1978: In Bakke vs. the Regents of the University of California, the U.S. Supreme Court affirms a lower court decision requiring the University of California Medical School to admit Allan P. Bakke, a white male who claimed he was a victim of "reverse discrimination" as a result of the school's minority admissions plan.

    Today: The Bakke case is again making headlines across the country as American universities and state governments wrestle with Affirmative Action policies that many, including a handful of vocal minority leaders, say are outdated and unfair. Colleges in Texas and Michigan are named in lawsuits by disgruntled student applicants, and forced to abandon admissions and hiring practices that favor minority applicants.

  • 1978: Various religious “cults” are in the news. A murder-suicide ritual claims the lives of 917 members of the “Peoples Temple” in Guyana, including spiritual leader Jim Jones.

    Today: On April 4, 1993, followers of spiritual leader David Koresh's Branch Davidians, are killed in an FBI raid on their Waco, Texas compound, after a fifty-one day standoff. Many vocal critics claim the FBI conducted themselves improperly. In March 1997, near San Diego, California, thirty-nine members of the ‘‘Heaven's Gate’’ cult, believing they will leave the corporeal world and ascend to ‘‘the next level,’’ don purple shrouds, drink a mixture of vodka and poison, and lie down to die with plastic bags over their heads. As the world moves toward the new millennium, such ‘‘death cults’’ are reported to be proliferating.

  • 1978: Broadway, in New York City, is the center of America's theatrical world. The average cost of mounting a play on Broadway is around $200,000, and a few dozen plays are produced in the 1978-79 season. Tickets are considered high-priced, with seats averaging $18. Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatres, where plays cost only a few thousand dollars to produce, and ticket prices average $3-5, are on the rise. The Off-Broadway scene becomes a haven for new and experimental playwrights.

    Today: A smash on Broadway is still considered the height of success in the American theatre, though smaller, Off-Broadway theatres are everywhere (more than two-hundred by a recent count) and regional theatres in places like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Houston are becoming more influential. It costs well over $ 1 million to mount a play on Broadway, though only a handful are produced. In the 1992-93 season, only eighteen plays were presented. Increasingly, Broadway has turned to musicals, revivals, and imports from abroad, mainly England. Large-scale, multi-million dollar spectacles such as Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera are the norm.

Media Adaptations

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  • While Buried Child has not yet been turned into a film, other Shepard plays are available on video, including Fool for Love, directed in 1985 by Robert Altman and starring Kim Basinger and Shepard himself; and True West (1986), directed by Allan Goldstein and starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Auerbach, Doris. ‘‘Buried Child.’’ In her Sam Shepard, Arthur Kopit, and the Off Broadway Theatre. Twayne, 1982, pp. 53-61.

Clurman, Harold. Review of Buried Child. In the Nation, December 2, 1978, pp. 621-22.

Gussow, Mel. Review of Buried Child. In the New York Times, January 2, 1979, p. C7.

Hart, Lynda. ‘‘Realism Revisited: Buried Child.’’ In her Sam Shepard's Metaphorical Stages. Greenwood Press, 1987, pp. 75-87.

Kalem, T. E. Review of Buried Child. In Time, December 18, 1978.

Kroll, Jack, Constance Guthrie, and Janet Huck. ‘‘Who's That Tall Dark Stranger.’’ In Newsweek, November 11, 1985, p. 71.

Kroll, Jack. Review of Buried Child. In Newsweek, October 30, 1978.

Marranca, Bonnie. ‘‘Sam Shepard.’’ In American Playwrights: A Critical Survey, p. 108.

Nash, Thomas. ‘‘Sam Shepard's Buried Child: The Ironic Use of Folklore.’’ In Modern Drama, Vol. XXVI, no. 4, December, 1983, pp. 486-91.

Newall, Venetia. ‘‘Harvest.’’ In Man, Myth, and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural. Marshall Cavendish, 1970, pp. 1214-18.

Raidy, William A. Review of Buried Child. In Plays and Players, February, 1979, pp. 36-37.

Simon, John. Review of Buried Child. In New York, November 27, 1978, p. 118.

Further Reading Bottoms, Stephen J. The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis. Cambridge University Press, 1998. One of the most recent studies of Shepard's work, Bottoms's analysis of Shepard's plays begins with his early, experimental one-acts, performed in churches and garages around New York in the 1960s; through his mainstream, full-length dramas and films of the 1970s and 1980s; and ending with Simpatico, produced in 1994.

Dugdale, John, compiler. File on Shepard. Methuen Drama 1989. This useful reference book, part of a series covering leading modern dramatists, contains a chronology of Shepard's career; descriptions and reviews of all his plays, from 1964-1985; selected quotes from the playwright himself; and a helpful bibliography of books and articles about Shepard and his work.

Shepard, Sam. Cruising Paradise. Vintage Books, 1997. A collection of forty short stories that explore some of the same motifs and themes found in Shepard's plays: America, the open road, solitude and loss, family, and the absurdity of life in show business.

Shepard, Sam. Motel Chronicles. City Lights Books, 1983. A sort of journal, filled with short stories, observations, and poetry by the playwright, mixed with black and white photographs.

Wade, Leslie. Sam Shepard and the American Theatre. Greenwood Press, 1997. Wade's study of Shepard's career is part of a series of books called Lives of the Theatre. The volumes are designed to provide scholarly introductions to important figures and eras in world theatre, from ancient Greece to the present day. Sam Shepard and the American Theatre examines Shepard's evolving place in American dramatic literature from a leading Off-(and Off-Off-) Broadway experimentalist to a mainstream dramatist and filmmaker.


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Sources for Further Study

Bigsby, C. W. E. “Sam Shepard.” In Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Bottoms, Stephen J. The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Cima, Jay Gibson. Review of Buried Child. Theatre Journal 35 (December, 1983): 559-560.

Cohn, Ruby. “Sam Shepard: Today’s Passionate Shepard and His Loves.” In Essays on Contemporary American Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim. Munich: M. Hueber, 1981.

Hart, Lynda. Sam Shepard’s Metaphorical Stages. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987.

King, Kimball. Sam Shepard: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1988.

McKellan, Kathleen. Review of Buried Child. Theatre Journal 48 (May, 1996): 225-226.

Marranca, Bonnie, ed. American Dreams: The Imagination of Sam Shepard. New York: Performing Arts Journal, 1981.

Perry, Frederick J. A Reconstruction Analysis of “Buried Child” by Playwright Sam Shepard. Lewistown, N.Y.: Mellen, 1992.

Simard, Rodney. “Sam Shepard: Emotional Renegade.” In Postmodern Drama: Contemporary Playwrights in America and Britain. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide