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True West

Sam Shepard

Scene Four

Scene Three

Scene Five

Summary

Later that night, Austin sits at the typewriter while Lee sits across from him at the table drinking. Austin has begrudgingly agreed to write Lee's scenario in order to get his car keys back. Lee demands to hear what Austin has written up to that point, but Austin protests because it is very late at night and, after all, this is only an outline.

The story Lee spins is about an absurd car chase featuring contrived motivations for both men, their location in "Tornado Country," and both of their cars simultaneously running out of gas. Austin criticizes the clichéd and contrived scenario, which could not be further from true life. Lee demands that both men not only run out of gas at the same time, but that both have horses on which to continue the chase. When Austin points out the absurdity of the scenario, Lee gets upset and throws a beer can at the windows of the alcove. He says he is going to write the scenario and then get out of town, unlike Austin, whom he compares to a parasite.

Austin demands his keys back but Lee refuses until they are finished with the outline. Unable to argue, Austin relents. However, Lee suddenly gives Austin his car keys and challenges Austin to throw him out of the house. They both acknowledge that Austin is physically incapable of doing so. Lee challenges hsi brother to call the police, but Austin says he would never do that to his own brother. Lee goes off about domestic violence and about how most murders occur between brothers. At this point Austin becomes suddenly very affectionate to his brother, offering to write the outline for him in hopes it could turn his life around, get him out of the desert and into his own place.

Lee is enthusiastic about this sudden opportunity for upward mobility, but then suggests that the brothers could instead use the money from the screenplay to get their father out of "hock." Austin explains that the old man will never change, and that he should not be a part of the better life Lee hopes to lead. Lee becomes indignant at the insult of their father and insults Austin's lifestyle as petty dreaming. Austin asks Lee to continue with the outline again, making the same insinuations about future wealth.

Lee agrees to continue, his motivation not the promise of wealth, but rather the experience of actually feeling like Austin. Lee admits that he used to daydream about Austin at college with books in his hands and blondes on his sides. Austin admits that he used to daydream about Lee out in the desert having adventures and that he questioned whether or not he had the right idea about living his life. Each brother's jealousy for the other's life seems genuine, and they take up the writing of the outline with a new sense of purpose. Lee makes sure they are on good terms by asking for the keys to the car again, which Austin gives him, and then muses about his future home. Austin reminds Lee not to get ahead of himself, and that they have to write the outline before Lee can afford a house. So they resume the writing: Lee dictates the next part of his horse chase while Austin types.

Analysis

The hilariously absurd plot Lee conjures is a touchstone for a discussion of the difference between Hollywood myth and reality. Lee claims that his story is "true-to-life," but no scenario could be possibly more contrived or outrageous. Shepard chose the title True West for a reason. He wants to investigate the nature of storytelling, and to point out that while Lee's scenario is absurd and unrealistic, the play's own scenario for the brothers is not. The brothers' struggle for dominance is the actual "true west." This first effort at screenwriting for Lee illuminates the issue for the first time in the play, though the theme is explored more fully later.

A very large thematic part of Scene Two has to with the violence inherent in the family. Austin would rather break a stained-glass window than hurt his brother, and is taken aback when Lee casually explains that most violence occurs within the family unit, between brothers. The discussion of brotherly violence lifts the brothers' struggle out of the realm of petty squabbling into the realm of Cain and Abel. Without irony, Lee chillingly talks about the fact that most murders take place in the home, and that there are documents that support his claim. It is unclear whether Lee is simply baiting his brother into violence or whether he is pontificating about the nature of violence itself. Either way, he has clearly thought about the subject, and to some degree expects the violent climax that the story eventually reaches.

Despite their seeming resentment, the two brothers are pettily jealous of the other's chosen lifestyle. Indeed, perhaps the tension and resentment result from this mutual jealousy. Lee touchingly recounts his daydreams about Austin's life as a big man on campus during Austin's Ivy League days. Austin, who so far has tried to deny any sense of heredity, sheepishly admits that he too thought about his brother's lifestyle as superior to his own. Though this mutual jealousy exists only as talk at this point in the play, it later matures into actual lifestyle changes as the story continues. These frank admissions of sibling envy are the beginning of the brothers' slow transformations into each other.

Austin and Lee also come back to the subject of their father, the old man. Lee is very excited by the prospect of making money from the screenplay and getting their father out of "hock," as he calls it. Austin, however, views the old man as sick and unworthy of any efforts to help him. Just as Lee understands the nature of familial violence, he also understands the debt one owes to one's father. Though their father may be a hopeless drunk lost in the desert, Lee refuses to turn his back on him.

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