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True West

Sam Shepard

Scene Six

Scene Five

Scene Seven

Summary

Saul and Lee are in the kitchen trying to persuade Austin that there was no funny business in relation to the deal that gives Lee a green light on his outline. Austin is despondent when he realizes that the deal is in fact legitimate, but he remains critical of the worth of Lee's story. Lee and Saul try to persuade Austin to take on screenwriting duties for Lee's story, but Austin says that he is too busy and that he has no familiarity with the material.

Saul, on the other hand, is very excited about the idea of two brothers working on the same project together—a situation he thinks would lend itself to a harmonious working relationship. Saul appeals to the situation concerning the Lee and Austin's father. It turns out that Lee had told Saul all about the old man and that the two of them had envisioned a trust fund that would allow the old man to reorganize his life. Whereas Austin was earlier merely bemused by the turns of events, the suggestion of a trust for his father makes him truly angry. He states in no uncertain terms that there is no possibility that he would take on screenwriting duties, and that Saul and Lee's techniques of bribery and blackmail would not succeed.

The two accept Austin's decision, and Saul apologizes but says he is afraid that he cannot go on with Austin's project. There is no way he can support both projects unless Austin agrees to write the screenplay for Lee's western. Saul maintains that he is only following his instincts, but Austin reminds him that he is only producing Lee's story because he lost a bet on a golf course. Austin challenges Saul to admit the real reason, but Saul says that Lee's screenplay has "the ring of truth."

When Austin protests that his own screenplay is also true, Saul reminds him that no one really cares about love anymore. The audience only wants to see action. Austin argues that Lee is the one that is out of touch. Austin, on the other hand, is the one who experiences the reality of the West: the smog, the suburbs, and the Safeway grocery store. These arguments, however, fall upon deaf ears. Austin continues to get riled up. Up until this scene he has been the coolly rational brother, but now he begins to actually insult Kimmer and his lack of judgment. In a final plea, Austin tells Saul that he is a fool to go ahead with Lee's screenplay. Saul politely excuses himself and plans on lunch with Lee for the following day.

Lee, for his part, has said almost nothing during the entire exchange between Saul and Austin. After Saul leaves, however, the brothers exchange glares from across the room, almost like cowboys at a showdown. If the situation had not already been in his favor before, Lee now clearly seems to have a firm grasp of the upper hand.

Analysis

Austin argues so vehemently against Lee and Saul's project because the turn of events that has led up to it attacks the way he has lived his life up to this point. To escape the plague of his family, Austin has worked hard, gotten a good education, and gotten a good job. So far that has been enough, as he has been met with enough professional success to indicate that the manner by which he goes through his days is fundamentally sound. In this scene, however, Austin is under a crisis of radical self-doubt. It seems unfathomable that his no-good brother could so easily walk away with the laurels for which Austin has fought so long and hard. When confronted with the ease at which Lee has been able to slip into his industry and lifestyle, Austin is forced to reconsider the worth of goals he has sought out.

The real kicker occurs when Saul reveals that he will no longer be able to produce Austin's screenplay—a project they had been working on for months—unless Austin helps Lee with Lee's screenplay. Austin's final, failing effort to persuade Saul not to produce Lee's screenplay is his contention that he is in touch with the world while Lee is not. However, Shepard raises the question of what it means to be in touch in the first place. Austin's reality of day-to-day living is supposed to be how normal people live their lives. He is grounded in the real world, while Lee is grounded in nothing, a nomadic desperado.

In Shepard's world it is of paramount importance to be in touch. Perhaps the most important thing to be in touch with is the land. Indeed, it is a punishable sin to be out of touch with the land in True West. While Austin goes on about how he is the one that is in touch, in reality it is the other way around. Austin has acclimated himself to the new West, the suburban sprawl and the smog. Lee, on the other hand has acclimated himself with the land, the old West. He lives in the desert, and after he is done with his screenwriting he intends to return there. Shepard contends that in building a civilization Americans have lost touch with the elements. In the Shepardian justice system, Austin is the one worthy of punishment.

This new placement of Austin in the role of transgressor highlights the fact that the brothers continue to change roles. Lee, in this scene, is rational and calm, while Austin comes across as frantic and angry. Professionally, Austin is now out of work, while Lee is officially on salary at the movie studio. Saul leaves the scene making plans for lunch with Lee, while Austin can do nothing but be angry. Austin has become the outsider, the one who is deemed out of touch with what is good and what is important. We are once again confronted with the notion of truth and storytelling. Saul proclaims that Lee's screenplay has "the ring of truth." Traditionally, a story comes across as true if it has believability. Lee's screenplay, however, is the most unbelievable yarn ever spun. Saul's inability to accurately judge what is true in Lee's story points to the degradation of the American West. Saul does not really know what a true western should look like. He does not have the vocabulary to describe it. Therefore, when Lee's bastardized idea of the West comes across Saul's plate, he grabs it and proclaims that he has found a true story. Austin, on the other hand, goes so far as to say that the West is dead. In this regard, Shepard laments the death of the West and satirizes its demise with Lee's outrageous screenplay.

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