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True West

Summary Scene Eight
Summary Scene Eight

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.