Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

A Lie of the Mind belongs to the second phase of Shepard’s career, in which he moved away from the expressionist style and episodic structure of his early works toward a linear (and ostensibly causal) dramatic structure. The influence of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist plays on Shepard’s early work is quite apparent in Cowboys #2 (pr. 1967, pb. 1971). The heroes of Cowboys #2, Stu and Chet, have no past, no future, and no existence beyond the confines of the stage—they are characters, not realistic projections of human beings. Further, the play’s action is a series of unlinked vignettes about acting: Chet and Stu begin as urban cowboys trapped in a modern metropolis, transform into a pair of old-timer cowboys who repel an attack by a Native American, and finally become observers who watch two unnamed actors enter and begin reading the script of Cowboys #2. The Tooth of Crime (pr. 1972, pb. 1974) uses the context of a verbal duel between Hoss, an aging rock star, and Crow, the usurper, to examine the interplay between the reality created inside the theater and the reality that exists outside the theater. In Geography of a Horse Dreamer (pr., pb. 1974) Shepard uses the play’s central figure, Cody, a clairvoyant whose ability to predict winners in horse races is exploited by those around him, to explore the problems of artistic creation.

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With Curse of the Starving Class (pb. 1976, pr. 1977), however, Shepard began to shift away from expressionism toward a more conventional realism in order to find a medium to explore the foundations, myths, delusions, failures, and triumphs of the American family. The action of Curse of the Starving Class issues from nominally realistic circumstances. Ella, the mother, wants to sell the house in order to escape from Weston, her alcoholic and abusive husband. Their children, Wesley and Emma, also fantasize about escaping the family. As Weston’s spiritual return to the family suggests, however, none of them can escape the biological...

(The entire section contains 504 words.)

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