Austin and Lee can be seen as opposite extremes of the creative artist. By himself, neither is able to actually sit down and write a screenplay. Austin is the diligent worker, Lee the visionary. They butt heads throughout the entire play, but through this often-violent relationship are finally able to write a screenplay. For Shepard, this antagonistic relationship is a necessary one. Only through great struggle is art ever created.
The houseplants in Mom's kitchen are symbols of the order and structure that pervade the suburbs of the new West. Austin's only job while he is house-sitting for his mother is to tend the houseplants and make sure they are watered. For a while he does his job, remembering to take care of the plants. But as Austin begins to realize that the ideals he has and the identity he has formed for himself are contrary to what he believes is right and true, he begins to neglect the houseplants. By the end of the play the plants are all dead. When Mom returns from Alaska, she said she has done so because she has missed her houseplants. For her they represent the order upon which she has come to rely so heavily. On seeing the plants dead, Mom leaves the house, unable to cope with the sense of chaos that has invaded her home.