Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Buried Child explores three generations of a grotesque and exaggerated, but also representative, American family. Beneath the elements of gothic horror—Dodge’s infanticide and the suggested incest between Tilden and Halie—lies an exploration of archetypal family conflicts. At the realistic level, the plot is a story about the passing of the family farm, once barren but perhaps now revitalized, from the older to the younger generation. At the mythic level, the subject is the inheritance of an emotional sterility which has crippled the younger generation but which they can recognize, unearth, and transcend. The constant bickering over small things among the family members which helps them avoid their larger fears and concerns, the failures of recognition and communication, Halie’s infidelity and Dodge’s drinking have all contributed to the disintegration of the family both as a unit and as individuals. Shepard criticizes this disintegration, but also recognizes the inevitability of conflict. Bradley symbolically dominates his father by cutting his hair, but then Vince displaces both Bradley and Dodge as he throws away Bradley’s leg and takes Dodge’s place on the couch after Dodge has willed him the house, land, and tools. Each generation can progress only through such a displacement of the preceding one, and the losses in the play are similarly inevitable. Dodge loses a son, as does Tilden, and Vince loses Shelly as he comes into his...

(The entire section is 458 words.)


(Drama for Students)

American Dream
In literature, as in life, the American Dream contains elements of adventure on the open road, the...

(The entire section is 896 words.)