Essay title: True West, Sam Shepard
Brotherly love can be such a wonderful thing. As children, two brothers can always have a playmate to play Cowboys and Indians with, or an older brother to reach the cookies on the counter. Grown up, they would have someone to help start their car engine, or guide them into and out of relationships.
However, a brother can also be the resident bully. The older can make the younger eat worms, or step into embarrassing situations for personal amusement. A brother can be the best of friends and/or the worst of enemies. Either philos adelphos or fratricide could result. Brothers have been seen throughout history in love/love, love/hate, and hate/hate relationships. Fortunately, all have been left with a set of moral guidelinesâ€”the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the seven holy virtues, etc.â€”these guidelines shape people whether they acknowledge it or not.
Sam Shepard is a famous playwright who has captured this conflict within families, which projects the overall conflicts of society, through most of his plays. Shepardâ€™s True West captures the struggle between brothers and what could happen when apathy consumes them. Ironically, each of the seven deadly sinsâ€”lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and prideâ€”and the seven holy virtuesâ€”chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humilityâ€”are either lived out or ignored in True West. These sins and virtues, when juxtaposed with the two brothers in the play, reveal an idea that Shepard tries to conveyâ€”denial of oneâ€™s moral responsibility and isolation of oneâ€™s self will lead to destruction and insanity. The play is set in, and only in, a kitchen of the mother of the two brothers. Lee, the older of the two, is roughly in his early forties, and is more of a nomadic alcoholic like their father. Austin is in his early thirties, and is an ivy-league graduate who writes screenplays.
Austin is more temperate in the first half of the play; Lee is a partially to completely drunk mooch throughout. As the play begins, Austin is writing a script as his brother, Lee, is pestering him about different odds and ends to catch up on things since they last met. Lee talks about his life in the desert and the money he could make if he only wanted to.
The reader can see Austin, the playâ€™s protagonist, portraying humility, kindness, and diligence as he puts up with his brotherâ€™s conversation, and even shows charity when he offers Lee some money. Lee gets so upset at the mere offer that he grabs Austin and exclaims, â€œDonâ€™t you say that to me! Donâ€™t you ever say that to me!â€ (11). Here Shepard embodies pride, opposing humility. Of course, Austinâ€™s humility doesnâ€™t last long when the script he has been writing is dropped when his producer chooses Leeâ€™s idea over his.
When Austin tries at first to help and encourage Lee to write the new script, he later rejects it calling it â€œa bullshit story,â€ and proclaims.