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True West

Sam Shepard

Scene Eight

Scene Seven

Scene Nine

Summary

A small fire has started burning in the alcove area. We see Lee smashing the typewriter with a golf club. There are a number of stolen toasters on the kitchen counter, and a gleefully drunken Austin polishing them with his breath and a dish towel. Empty beer and whiskey bottles litter the floor and all of the houseplants are now dead.

Austin asks Lee how he should feel about the victims of his theft, all of the poor suburban folks with no toast to make their mornings a little more pleasant. Lee is very drunk and responds curtly, more interested in the task of breaking the typewriter than listening to Austin babble on about toasters. Both men are very confused as to what time it is, but Austin decides that what Lee needs is a little toast for breakfast. Austin manically drops bread into each of the toasters, turning them all on.

Lee wants to know if there is enough gas in the car to go to Bakersfield because he is in need of the pleasures of a woman. Austin does not know how much gas in the car, but thinks that toast is a much better solution than a woman, as a woman never helped anyone. Lee rifles through his pockets, looking at various women's phone numbers. He burns some of them in the small fire and keeps others.

Lee calls the operator looking for a woman name Melanie Ferguson in Bakersfield. There are ten different Melanie Fergusons, however, and as Lee does not remember where his Melanie Ferguson lives, he decides to take down all ten numbers. Unfortunately, he cannot find a pen or a pencil, and he destroys what is left of the kitchen looking for one. By the time he finds a pencil and gets back to the phone, the operator has hung up. In Austin's eyes, it is all for the best. Austin thinks that the best remedy is a good piece of toast, and likens the smell of toast to the feeling of salvation.

Austin then asks if he can accompany Lee back to the desert. Lee laughs, thinking that Austin would not last more than five minutes away from the luxuries of suburbia. Furthermore, Lee does not understand why Austin would want to leave such luxuries in the first place. Austin proclaims that nothing is real in his life, and that the only authenticity lies out in the wilderness, in the unknown. Lee is dumbfounded, as he did not go out to the desert for a transcendent, spiritual journey. He went out there only because he failed to make things work in the regular world.

Austin begs Lee to take him to the desert. Lee becomes angry and finally knocks the plate of toast Austin carries onto the floor. Austin lowers himself and slowly gathers up all of the toast. Lee, considering for a moment, offers a deal: if Austin will write Lee's screenplay without irony or criticism, Lee will take Austin to the desert. Austin readily agrees, and the scene ends while Lee loudly crunches on a piece of Austin's toast.

Analysis

Shepard's image of Austin polishing toasters while Lee smashes the typewriter is a comic masterpiece, a completely unexpected vision onstage. Austin is immensely proud of his toasters, and uses them as a new benchmark with which to define himself. He has completely abandoned his old standards and benchmarks, which do not seem good enough anymore. Shepard's use of the happy thief as a mark of success forces us to reevaluate America's models for self-evaluation. The old systems for evaluating success are all used up, and were unsatisfactory to begin with. Austin's complete and total satisfaction with his stolen toasters is the literal negation of the American Dream as defined in modern life. Upward mobility is replaced by petty theft and escape to the desert. Austin has become obsessed with leaving the suburbs and moving out to the wilderness.

Lee, however, does not think Austin will be able to function effectively in the absence of the luxuries of the regular world, the devices America has set up with which to evaluate itself. Austin, however, is desperate, so much so that he makes a deal to write Lee's screenplay on the condition that Lee takes Austin out to the desert, to the unknown world. Austin declares everything in his life to be false, and says that the only hope for him rests in the promise of a new set of ideals and values that only the desert can provide.

Freud argued that money is not one of the chief needs of the human psyche, failing to rank in importance on par with love, affirmation, and sex. Austin realizes that his relentless pursuit of the nonessential has been all folly. What he has really been searching for is some kind of satisfying role. Father, brother, and screenwriter are not nearly enough, as he has found the first satisfying role in his life when he becomes a thief. For the first time Austin has a sense of self outside of what others have taught him to believe he needs. For the first time he has independence from the system that has long sustained him.

Lee, on the other hand, does not understand what all Austin's fuss is about. He thinks of the desert as a last resort, not a utopia, and stealing as a necessity, not a freeing of the soul. However, Lee recognizes the depth of Austin's need to escape and uses it as the final bargaining chip to get Austin to write his screenplay. Lee has had enough of the desert and the unknown and now chooses to define himself in more conventional roles. In this regard, each of the brothers has almost completely lost the sense of self they had coming into the play.

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