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Sam Shepard’s American Siblings Essay, Research Paper

True West is an intense dramatization of the relationship between two brothers: Lee and Austin. As each scene progresses, the brothers? rivalry and animosity towards each other become more and more apparent, building towards a single emotionally involving climax. Throughout the play, the characters undergo subtle changes as each brother subconsciously attempts to absorb the part of the other brother?s life which he feels might complete him. This role reversal is the pivotal instrument in which Sam Sheppard shows the intensity of sibling rivalry.

The play starts en medea res. Lee and Austin have not talked to each other in some time, and Lee obviously resents Austin. In the conversation Lee almost has something to prove to Austin. A few sentences into the conversation, Austin?s estimation of Lee and Lee?s hostile resentment of this view become apparent:

AUSTIN: I?ve got too much to deal with here to be worrying about?

LEE: Yer not gonna? have to worry about me! I?ve been doin? all right without you. I haven?t been anywhere near you for five years! Now isn?t that true? (P. 8)

Austin clearly thinks of his brother as a responsibility, and does not think of him as an equal, much less as someone who can take care of himself. For Lee on the other hand, being looked down upon by his younger brother is insulting. Lee?s reaction to his brother is immediately defensive. When the subject of Lee staying at their mother?s house comes up, Lee snaps at Austin:

AUSTIN: Well, you can stay here as long as I?m here.

LEE: I don?t need your permission do I?

And later,

LEE: She might?ve just as easily asked me to take care of her place as you.

AUSTIN: That?s right.

LEE: I mean I know how to water plants. (P.7)

Throughout this scene, Lee?s hostile attitude towards Austin constantly disrupts the flow of the conversation, and is a continual reminder that these two men have an unresolved internal conflict. Both brothers realize that they each come from two different walks of life, but it is Austin who chooses to believe that his way of life is superior. While Austin has, as Lee puts it, ??the wife and kiddies?the house, the car, the whole slam?(p.9),? we never discover if Lee owns anything at all, or is just a transient burglar. Lee has much to be jealous of in Austin. Austin, however, has very little to be jealous of in Lee. Lee is a thief who hasn?t ever settled down into anything. In this first scene, the overall emphasis of power between the brothers is material possessions, and Austin definitely has the power over Lee.

The first scene defines each character and what they are. Austin is an ambitious man who wants very badly to finish his movie script and sell it. He says to his scripting agent, ?I?ve got everything riding on this, Saul. You know that. It?s my only shot. If this falls through?(P. 35).? At the same time he is very patient and timid with his brother. Lee is very competitive, emotionally explosive and content to scrape by with the minimum of money. He does not feel that he is socially fit to live in a social community, as he says:

LEE: This is the last time I try to live with people! (P. 46)

And later,

LEE: Hey, do you actually think I chose to live out in the middle a? nowhere? Do ya?? Ya? think its some kinda? philosophical decision I took or somethin?? I?m livin? out there ?cause I can?t make it here! (P. 49)

The first major change in one of the brothers is in Austin. After Austin?s agent offers Lee a deal which Austin was hoping to get, Austin almost refuses to believe it. When Lee needs Austin to be his writer, Austin becomes adamantly against Lee, and furiously tries to talk his agent out of the deal with Lee. Throughout the play until this point, Lee?s dialogue has been considerably lengthier than Austin?s has. In this scene, Austin?s dialogue is explosive in its length when compared with Lee?s sparse one liners. This change marks the end of the way things used to be for them. Austin?s reaction to his brother is not the timid, patient person who we met in the first scene. In contrast, while Lee is being a little more ambitious and social than we have been led to believe he normally is, the major change is that it is Lee who is calm and timid when Austin becomes infuriated:

AUSTIN: Yeah, well you can afford to give me a percentage on the outline then. And you better get the genius here an agent before he gets burned.

LEE: Saul?s gonna? be my agent. Isn?t that right, Saul? (P.34)

While these behavioral changes don?t necessarily mean that the brothers? roles have switched, in scene seven, role changing is blatantly obvious. In a reversal of the play?s opening scene, Lee is trying to write the draft of his story, and Austin is the constant disruption:

LEE: (slams fist on table) Hey! Knock it off will ya?! I?m tryin? to concentrate here.

AUSTIN: (laughs) You?re tryin? to concentrate?

LEE: Shut up will ya?!

And later,

LEE: I?m a screenwriter now! I?m legitimate. (P.37)

Lee?s cry that he is ?legitimate? shows that he has been more concerned with his illegitimate past than he has let on. He wants to be part of society, and he thinks he has finally found an outlet for that part of himself in his brother?s life. When he tells his brother that he is ?legitimate? and a ?screenwriter,? he is really trying to convince himself. For Austin, his Lee has been more successful in Austin?s business than Austin has, and in just a few days. His rivalry is determined to fight back, ?You really don?t think I could steal a crumby toaster? How much you wanna? bet I can?t steal a toaster! (P.38)? Austin?s assimilation of Lee is apparent in other ways as well, as he begins to sound more and more like his brother:

AUSTIN: Don?t worry about me. I?m not the one to worry about. (P. 38)

And later,

AUSTIN: I can take care a? myself. Don?t worry about me. (P. 39)

In foreshadowing, Austin later says, ?Yeah, well we all sound alike when we?re sloshed. We just sorta? echo each other.(P.39)? Each of the brothers has taken on characteristics of the other brother, and they each learn something about themselves in the process.

With the culmination of the tense last scene, Lee realizes that he is not meant to live like Austin, and he knows that Austin wouldn?t be able to live with him on the desert. When Austin snaps, and begins choking Lee, he makes an almost complete role reversal. His own greed and disregard for others leads him to attack his own brother, whom he has subconsciously used for a role model throughout the play. Lee on the other hand becomes more focused and calm as the play proceeds. With the unresolved ending, the play leaves the resolution of the two brothers up to speculation. While neither of the brothers knows what will happen to themselves, their mother says it best, ?I see. Well, you?ll all wind up on the same desert sooner or later.(P53)? Neither of the brothers has acted in a particularly normal fashion throughout the play, and it is only when their mother comes home that they realize they have trashed the house. The exchange of culture between the two brothers not only allows each brother to glimpse into the others? life, but also creates a chaotic environment in which the brothers become overcome with sibling rivalry.


True West

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