Sam Shepard Analysis

Discussion Topics

In Fool for Love, how does Sam Shepard treat the theme of the American Dream?

What role does the Old Man play in Fool for Love?

How is the emphasis on the men’s dead father significant in True West?

What is the significance of the title True West, and how is that significance perpetuated throughout the play? What props, auditory elements, names, and stories define the setting and attitude that are used to further the “true west” theme?

Consider the technique of the slow and subtle role reversal of the brothers in True West. Where does it begin to take shape? Where are the shifts, and how does Shepard use characterization to reveal them?

Consider the secondary theme of writing and the writing business. How does it play out as a significant message throughout True West?

What roles do the coyotes and crickets play in True West?

Critics have drawn parallels between Austin and Lee and animals that they represent. Which animals are each likened to in True West?

In Shepard’s works, much emphasis is placed on American iconography. What symbols of popular culture are present in True West, and what might each suggest in the context of the play?

Also relevant to many if not most of Shepard’s plays is the dysfunctional family unit. Considering a work such as The Late Henry Moss, then, would you say the work is universal? If so, how? If not, why not?

How do the characters in The Late Henry Moss express or show love?

Fool for Love is “haunted.” Though no actual apparition or specter appears in The Late Henry Moss, how is that play also haunted?

Other Literary Forms

Sam Shepard has written a number of screenplays, including the ill-fated Zabriskie Point (1969) for Michelangelo Antonioni and the award-winning Paris, Texas (1984). He also wrote and directed Far North (1988) and Silent Tongue (1993). Shepard has also written poetry and short fiction, in Hawk Moon: A Book of Short Stories, Poems, and Monologues (1973) and Motel Chronicles (1982), and recorded the major events of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in a collection of essays titled Rolling Thunder Logbook (1977).


Sam Shepard is one of the United States’ most prolific, most celebrated, and most honored playwrights. Writing exclusively for the Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theater, Shepard has nevertheless won eleven Obie Awards (for Red Cross, Chicago, Icarus’s Mother, Forensic and the Navigators, La Turista, Melodrama Play, Cowboys #2, The Tooth of Crime, Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, and Fool for Love). In 1979, he received a Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child. His screenplay for Wim Wenders’s film Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and Shepard himself received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Colonel Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). A Lie of the Mind was named the outstanding new play of the 1985-1986 season by the Drama Desk. In 1998 Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Great Performances devoted an hour-long TV program to Shepard’s life and plays.


Auerbach, Doris. Shepard, Kopit, and the Off Broadway Theater. Boston: Twayne, 1982. One of the first important academic analyses of Shepard’s plays, this book provides a valuable analysis of Shepard’s work as Off-Broadway drama.

Bottoms, Stephen J. The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Along with a thorough examination of Shepard’s plays, Bottoms compares Shepard’s work to that of other leading contemporary dramatists.

DeRose, David J. Sam Shepard. New York: Twayne, 1992. This book offers a brief overview of Shepard’s life and work, analyzing his theatrical and thematic goals. Includes an annotated bibliography of secondary sources and a detailed list of important play reviews.

Hart, Lynda. Sam Shepard’s Metaphorical Stages. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Hart argues that Shepard’s plays from Cowboys #2 to A Lie of the Mind are influenced by techniques developed by the Theater of the Absurd, particularly by the work of Samuel Beckett, Antonin Artaud, and Eugène Ionesco. The book also has a brief chapter on Shepard’s television and film work.

Howard, Patricia, ed. “Special Issue: Sam Shepard and Contemporary American Drama.” Modern Drama 36, no. 1 (1993). An...

(The entire section is 450 words.)