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True West

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title · True West

author · Sam Shepard

type of work · Play

genre · Naturalistic comedy

language · English

time and place written · California, 1979

date of publication · First performed July 10, 1980, at the Magic Theater in San Francisco; first published in July 1981

publisher · Bantam Books

tone · While the play is very violent and serious, it is infused with a hefty degree of the absurdly comic

tense · Present, with no flashbacks or flash-forwards

setting (time) · The present

setting (place) · A kitchen and adjoining alcove in a suburb forty miles outside of Los Angeles

protagonist · Austin

major conflict · Lee's attempt to encroach upon Austin's "normal" way of life and success threatens Austin and causes him to reevaluate his priorities and goals

rising action · Lee arrives and pesters Austin; Lee intrudes on Austin's meeting with the producer Saul Kimmer; Lee sells a story idea to Saul Kimmer while the two play golf; Austin has to work on the screenplay for Lee's story rather than his own; Austin gets drunk and steals toasters

climax · Austin cuts a deal with Lee: if Austin writes Lee's screenplay, then Lee will take him out to the desert.

falling action · Mom arrives home from Alaska; Austin strangles Lee with a phone cord

themes · The curse of ancestry; the old West vs. the New west; art as a business vs. art as an ideal; the fallibility of the American Dream

motifs · The desert; drinking; the old man

symbols · Austin and Lee; the houseplants

foreshadowing · Lee's remark that violence is more common between brothers than among the population as a whole prefigures the brothers' violence later in the play