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It s amazing what a secret can do to a person. Keeping secrets among friends can be fun, or helpful when you need to confide in someone you trust. Other secrets can do more harm than good. They can fester inside you and cause endless pain. In Buried Child, this is the case. The family is permanently altered by their secret, which becomes a growing moral cancer to them, leaving each impotent in their own way.
The play takes place on Dodge s farm. About thirty years ago, the farm was fertile and prosperous. Dodge and Halie didn t have a wonderful marriage, however. Things took a turn for the worse when Halie became pregnant with someone else. It is suggested that Tilden is the father. The evidence to support this includes the fact that the baby was small, and that Tilden would sing to it and take it for long walks all day, just talking to it and treating it as his own. Tilden
was the one who knew. Better than any of us. He d walk for miles with that kid in his arms. Halie let him take it. All night sometimes. (p. 124) Dodge would not allow this abomination to grow up and live in his family, so he drowned it, and buried it in the backyard. We can guess that this is when the farm ceased to be fertile, and fell into disuse. This is a symbol of the death of honesty and the birth of the family s terrible secret.
Why exactly does everything go wrong for this family? We don t know exactly when the problems started, but we know that Ansel died on his honeymoon, Bradley cut off his own leg in a chain saw accident and is now mentally imbalanced, Tilden is nonfunctional and has been driven out of New Mexico, Dodge is a crazy old sick guy, and Halie is doing shady things with the preacher. Vince is the only person capable of facing the world and life, but he too is corrupted by the secret at the end. The answer to the question is that their secret, the dead child, is a secret festering them from the inside out. It is unclear
how long this moral degradation took, it may have taken years for all this to happen. We do know that it has left everyone impotent.
Bradley is the most vivid example of this impotence. His false leg is his crutch, both figuratively and literally. With it, he has the most power of any of the people in the play. He maims and shaves Dodge with no repercussions, intimidates Tilden to the point of making him run away, and he rapes Shelly by sticking his hands into her mouth. With his free hand he puts his fingers into her mouth. She tries to pull away. BRADLEY: Just stay put! She freezes. He keeps
his fingers in her mouth. (p. 107) Without his leg, however, he no more than a sniveling infant. Mom! Mom! She s got my leg! She s taken my leg! I never did anything to her. She s stolen my leg! (p. 120) He can t even try to get it, just reach out and whine like a baby. He seems incapable of even adult reasoning.
There is a major difference in the effect this impotence has on Bradley and Tilden. While Bradley denies the truth, telling Tilden he doesn t know, he wasn t born yet, Tilden is on an active search for the body of this child. Bradley wants the secret to remain a secret. Tilden wants it out in the open, wants the closure, even if subconsciously. That s why he finds corn, carrots, and potatoes out in the fields, while Bradley and the others see only the rain.
The land represents the soul, and is fertile for Tilden because in his way he is seeking to right this terrible wrong by revealing the child. When Tilden covers Dodge with the corn husks, but leaves his head uncovered, he is covering him with something good that the land, or in this case his maimed soul, has produced. He is trying to help Dodge to realize that the truth must be told. Bradley comes into the room and throws the husks off, shaves Dodge s head and cuts him while he is helpless, like a punishment for the secret. Then he covers him up, head and all, with the blanket. This shows a denial of the truth and a denial that it needs to be told. This situation could also have to do with life.
Bradley s bruality could show that he wishes Dodge would die, so the secret would no longer matter. Tilden wants his father to live on and tell the secret, and be healed.
No one else sees the crops because of the rain, which is a symbol of the secret. For all we know, it has been raining since the day the child was killed. The others can t see through the rain to see the truth, the secret must be revealed. After the secret has been revealed to Shelly, it stops raining and everyone sees the crops outside. They can see that it is better to not keep such a terrible secret. It is important that they tell an outsider the secret because it is a sort of cleansing to them. They are finally getting this terrible secret off their chests, so to speak. Soemtimes, realization comes too late to help, though. In this case, Vince becomes corrupted and a member of this crazy family again. Dodge dies, but he has let the secret out, like the only thing that was keeping him alive was protecting the secret from outside view. Shelley leaves because she is an outsider and has no part of the corruption.
It is interesting to note that no one remembers Vince until he is acting as crazy as the rest of the family. He is the only one who is capable of dealing with life outside the house. It is unclear whether or not he is different because the brunt of the degradation happened to the family within the six years since his last visit, or if the act of leaving and forcing himself to live away from the secret changed
him. He had no knowledge of the buried child until it was revealed, but the problems of his family members could easily have been passed on to him subconsciously by everyone else. Their actions could have had a profound effect on the way he thinks and acts. It is when Vince is accepted back into that family that Shelly realizes there is no
hope for this family. They are lost. She then leaves them all to their permanent insanity. This shows that even though the secret was finally brought out into the open, it was too little too late. A terrible secret kept that long can tear a person apart.
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