Fool for Love Themes
by Sam Shepard

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

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While the explosive emotions between Eddie and May dominate the stage, the past, represented in the character of the Old Man, is thematically at the center of the play. He not only set the trap that led to the incest between Eddie and May but also the pattern which is to dominate both their lives. On the most superficial level, the Old Man is typical of the American masculine ego that cannot allow its autonomy and mobility to be compromised by a woman and the confinements of domestic responsibility. His situation is complicated but not changed by his infidelity. He fell in love twice, once with Eddie’s mother, once with May’s mother, but “it was the same love. Just split in two, that’s all.” He tells May’s mother that he would “never come across for her.” Yet she was “a force,” drawing him in. Like Eddie’s incestuous connection to May, the Old Man’s adulterous love is irresistibly and irrevocably fated.

If May’s mother was a force for him, he was no less a force for her. By searching him out, she had crossed “a forbidden zone, but she couldn’t help herself.” She forces a crisis, and the Old Man, unable to resolve the conflict between his licit and illicit love, reverts to that which he knows best, escape and rationalization: “Good thing I got out when I did. Best thing I ever did.”

When May tells Eddie, “You do nothing but repeat yourself,” clearly he repeats not only himself but also his father’s life. Eddie’s father could not live without May’s mother; Eddie cannot live with May. Because it remains a violation of fundamental taboos—as Martin notes, “that’s illegal”—incest retains its power to shock and offend one’s deepest sensibilities. Yet neither can he live without her. As the Old Man felt about May’s mother, without her he cannot be “completely whole.” Beyond the shabby motel room in which they come together, there is only the vast emptiness of the Mojave desert.

If the play offers any hope, it lies in the character of May. When Martin asks her, “do you need some help or anything?” she ignores him. Through her confrontation with Eddie and her own past, she has developed a strength of character that goes beyond a dependency on male needs. She exits at the end with a sense of independence and wholeness that are lacking in both the Old Man and Eddie.

Themes

(Drama for Students)

Memories and Reminiscence
Eddie and May’s joint past fuels much of Fool for Love. Each of them carries their own interpretation of the memory of their relationship. Eddie wants this memory to continue as reality into the future. That is why he has tracked May down to this motel room. May wants to escape the past and move on with her life as a individual. The memories seem to make this choice impossible. At the end of the play, Eddie effectively ends May’s potential relationship with Martin by telling him about the roots of he and his half-sister’s incestuous affair. May gets her opinion in, too, by finishing Eddie’s story from her point of view. Eddie tries to use memory to try to control May, but she has grown beyond his manipulations. May has her own memories of Eddie repeatedly abandoning her; she has learned to use her bad memories of his desertions as reinforcement in refusing him.

Memory also comes into play in another way in Fool for Love . According to Shepard’s description, the character of the Old Man is a figment of the siblings’ imaginations. He is their father, but not really living in the same way they are. He is an independent reminiscence that addresses his children, primarily Eddie, as needed. The Old Man is more than a memory, however. Through Eddie and May’s dialogue, the Old Man becomes upset when he learns that his memory of the past is wrong. While the Old Man knows his double life has caused his children’s problematic situation, he learns that May’s mother killed herself because of his double dealings. May also says some things that contradict the Old Man’s memory of the...

(The entire section is 1,178 words.)