True West

by: Sam Shepard

Austin

Austin is an ambitious screenwriter. He has accepted a cookie-cutter life for himself: he has a family, a house, a producer. He knows his place in the world. As True West begins Austin is doing a little "research" for a screenplay he is writing, too bashful to admit that something he is working on might approach the level of art. He thinks of himself as a simple laborer, with a simple life and a simple family—until his brother, Lee, shows up in town. At the beginning of the play Austin and Lee maintain an affable, though slightly strained relationship. Austin is the straight man to Lee's comic relief. Austin is square and he knows it. However, there is a slow transformation in Austin's character that charts the evolution of the play as a whole. The failure of his movie deal makes Austin become more and more like his rambunctious brother, and eventually, the two effectively switch roles. Instead of the hardworking screenwriter, Austin actually becomes the drunken thief. Lying drunk on the floor, Austin screams at Lee while Lee is trying to write a screenplay. Austin also becomes obsessed with the idea of moving to the desert with Lee, as he is no longer able to take solace in his normal life. When Lee tries to go the desert without Austin, Austin strangles Lee with a phone cord, almost killing him. From a symbolic point of view, Austin can be seen as one half of the creative process. He is the methodical, diligent aspect, while and Lee is the creative, inspired side. Together they form the basic ingredients of an artist and together they are able to write the beginnings of a screenplay.