Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Curse of the Starving Class examines themes of the violation of the land and the disintegration of the nuclear family. It is a very American play, about naïveté, about family relationships and how these relationships are perceived. Taylor seems to sum it all up in act 2 when he complains, “You people carry on as though the whole world revolved around your petty little existence.” Worse, each person seems isolated within the family, unaware of the others’ goals and aspirations. Wesley and Emma are genuinely upset at the prospect of the loss of their home, while Weston has spent most of his time trying to break out of its confinement. Ella flatters herself that Taylor is interested in her and is devastated when she discovers that it was only the property he wanted. None of the Tates seems to realize that there is a profit to be made in dividing the land, converting it from farming to tracts for low-cost housing.

These themes are also suggested symbolically. In his directions at the start of the play, after specifying the position of a table, Sam Shepard notes, “Four mismatched metal chairs are set one at each side of the table.” The chairs suggest the differences among the family members. Emma’s 4-H uniform is a marked contrast to Wesley’s sweatshirt and jeans. No sooner does Ella, wearing a dress and white gloves, leave with Taylor than Weston enters in his shabby outfit. At the same time, there is a connection between these...

(The entire section is 490 words.)


(Drama for Students)

The Disappearing Frontier
Shepard’s work, from his first play Cowboys to his most recent scripts, is suffused with...

(The entire section is 876 words.)