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True West

Sam Shepard

Important Quotations Explained

Scene Nine

Key Facts

Hey, ya' know, if that uh' story of yours doesn't go over with the guy, tell him I got a couple a' projects he might be interested in. Real commercial. Full a suspense. True-to-life stuff.

Lee's increasing infringement upon Austin's life at the end of Scene Two continues to include Austin's career. Lee promises a real-life western to the producer Saul Kimmer. Writing has been Austin's game, and Lee's presence does not merely carry with it the threat of theft but also genuine trouble for his brother. The myth of the West has long preoccupied the American mind, the distinction between historical fact and fancy sometimes unclear. In this light, Shepard uses the West to explore the exploitation of the authentic for the sake of money and Hollywood acceptance. Hollywood is one of the ultimate curses for Shepard. It is a very convenient metaphor with which to explore the nature of art versus business. How can there be a True Western? The stories in and of themselves have created the myth of the American West. Through the lens of Hollywood, Shepard cleverly explores the crooked line between myth and the truth.

What kinda people kill each other most Family people. Brothers.

At a very tense moment during Scene Four, Lee dares Austin to call the police to remove Lee from the house after Lee refuses to return Austin's car keys. Austin, however, has not even considered such a rash action because he could never do such a thing to his brother. This familial relation, however, means very little to Lee. Indeed, in his view, the fact that they are family makes them even more prone to violence. In the world of the play, it is simply inevitable that the brothers will duke it out to the death, just as it is inevitable that the desert will exert its indomitable pull. There is no avoiding your fate in True West. The clash of the brothers is an event that has to happen. Lee understands his fate when he utters this line, and soon enough, Austin comes to understand his fate also.

He thinks we're the same person.

While Lee noisily bangs away at his screenplay at the beginning of Scene Seven, Austin announces in a drunken stupor that the producer Saul Kimmer thinks that Lee and Austin are the same person. This seems implausible at first, as the slovenly Lee and the proper Austin could not look any less like each other. But Saul does not mistake them by their appearance; he mistakes them based on their function in the creative process. This quotation is the most explicit example of the brothers being the two sides of one creative artist. Lee is all vision but no discipline, while Austin is all discipline but no vision. Each on his own is incapable of producing a screenplay, or any other artistic work for that matter. Together, though they are an extremely violent pairing, the two are able to get work done. In this context, Shepard implies that creativity, by its very nature, is an extremely violent process, but necessarily so. The war that takes place is over the writing of a screenplay. As True West itself is so naturalistic, Austin and Lee can easily be interpreted as nothing but two very upset brothers trying to write a screenplay. However, on an allegorical level the brothers become archetypes, each represent one half or aspect of the creative artist.

Well, you'll probably wind up on the same desert sooner or later.

In Scene Nine, when the brothers announce their intentions to go to the desert, Mom speculates that they will find their father sooner or later. Austin and Lee assure their mother that they will be traveling to a different desert than the one where their father lives. Mom, however, sees the inevitability of their flight, and knows that they will somehow wind up on the same desert with the old man. Indeed, Shepard returns to his beloved theme of hereditary destiny thoroughly in True West. In Shepard's world the child is preordained to repeat the sins of the father, no matter how he may try to fight it. Austin has worked all of his life to distance himself from his father. But his Ivy League diploma and stable job do not release him from the curse of his father. At the beginning of the play Austin winces when introducing Lee, the picture-perfect image of his father. Austin wants to have no ties to his family, yet by the end of the play is begging Lee to take him out to the desert. When Mom talks about winding up on the same desert she succinctly sums up a preoccupation of both Christian tradition and modern psychology, that the sins of the father will be placed on and reenacted by the son.

I can't stay here. This is worse than being homeless.

Mom says these words before she leaves for her motel near the end of the play in Scene Nine. The motel is her safe haven away from the depraved, absurd setting that her kitchen has become, as she cannot cope with the bizarreness that has perpetrated her home. Mom is used to houseplants, fluorescent lights, and Formica. She has to get away from this vision of chaos and back to the normal world to which she is accustomed. In Shepard's world, however, one of the biggest sins a character can commit is losing touch with the land. Austin has an epiphany about his lack of intimacy with the land—an epiphany that motivates his ever-deepening urge to go to the desert. Mom is the character most cut off from the land in the whole play. The West, for Shepard, has become so orderly in the fashion Mom has tried to impose order on her home. Little of the old-West rough-and-ready days remain. Lee's return, however, infuses the kitchen with a sense of the chaotic, violent days of old. Mom, meanwhile, is firmly a character of the new West, the West of proper rodeos and the Safeway supermarket. Confronted with a vision of the old West, she is incapable of functioning within it. Rather than attempting to clean up her house, she retreats to the motel, where she knows there will be a sense of order. To her, worse than being homeless is seeing her home literally become the sort of chaos that the new West has desperately tried to keep out. Being cut off from the land carries a heavy price in Shepard's world, as we see in Mom's departure in self- exile, unable to cope with the new vision of order that her sons have shown her.

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