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Style of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” Play


Sam Shepard wrote the play Buried Child in the year 1978. The play is an extraordinary piece of work, and it received the Pulitzer award in 1979. Buried child is part of a family trilogy by Shepard, and it gives us a clear glance into a broken American family. The play has been found to carry the theme of family corruption, and it also shows how the secrets in families could gradually break the unity of the family. Shepard’s play represents ordinary American families, but he uses both the realism and surrealism style of writing to present his work. The play is majorly staged in the family’s sitting room and on the sofa. Everyone in this family lives in their own haunted world and does not relate as a family. The tensed and broken relationship between the family members is clear to see from the play.

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The play begins in the sitting room of the family house, where Dodge, an older man, sits wrapped up in his blanket on the sofa. The place is dark, with only the blue light of the television lighting the room. The voice of his wife Halie can be heard from the background in a room upstairs. Dodge does not seem to be doing anything with his life and is sunken on the couch drinking and smoking. Tilden, who is the son of the two, is busy pre-occupied with the garden and walks in with a massive sack of corn that he puts on his father’s laps. Tilden was once a famous American star player, but all this is in the past and is now just a miserable farmer. Bradley is a drunk, just like his father, and he had his leg cut off by a power saw. The story begins and ends in this same sitting room. The differences between the family members are shown over the 24 hours of the setting of the play.


Shepard’s play Buried Child is a story about a dysfunctional American family that tries to tolerate one another but keeps breaking even further. Dodge is the head of the family but does not seem to have his life in order and has lost all hope of life. He is an alcoholic and sits every day on his sofa drinking and smoking. Halie does not love her husband anymore as he has changed, and she sticks to religion to bring her joy. The children of this house do not love or respect their parents (Mir and Vijaya 614). Tilden comes in the house with a sack of corn, puts it on his father’s lap, and barely talks to him. Bradley is a bully who walks into the house and shaves off his father’s head. These people do not hold conversations with each other; instead, they scold each other. All the men in this family are drunkards and doing nothing meaningful with their lives.

Corruption in the family as a theme in the play is seen through the lives of the characters. Halie is having an affair with Father Dewis despite her husband being alive. Dodge suspects that Bradley is not his son and claims that their dead child is his actual baby. Dodge shouts out loudly that Bradley is not his son “My flesh and blood is out there in the backyard” (Shepard Act 1). Tilden is suspected of having had an incestuous affair with his mother, which led to the birth of a baby. This baby is said to be buried in the back garden as Dodge had killed it. Tilden’s son, Vincent, is a prodigal son who had been away from home for a long time. When he returns home with his girlfriend, people do not recognize him. His father does not want to talk to him; he even tells Shelly that Vince is not his son “I had a son once, but we buried him” (Shepard Act 2). Vince’s girlfriend Shelly is astonished at the way this home is a wreck. The family is dysfunctional, and the family members do not remember what it was to be family.

The play portrays what humanity is all about, secrecy, immorality, selfishness, and brokenness of humanity. All the men in this family are drunkards who are insensitive, and they do not care for anything, even themselves. Dodge does not love his wife anymore, and he is caught up in drinking and smoking. While in Halie’s room, he tells Shelly that he does not care about his past “Who gives a damn about bones in the ground?” (Shepard Act 3). Tilden lost his career ages ago and seemed to be killing himself with the garden and not care for anything else (Mir and Vijaya 613). After the loss of his leg, Bradley is just a drunk and bully. Vincent is a rock star who has spent many years from home but still returns home to become like his grandfather. The “man of God” in the play, Father Dewis, does not help this family in any way. Instead, he has an affair with Halie, Dodge’s wife, and is afraid of the drama he sees in the family. Shelly is traumatized by the broken nature of Vince’s family, and she runs away the moment she can.


Shepard does a great job of using the real and surreal style of writing to pass on his message. He uses the characters to illustrate the dysfunctional nature of many American families. Many families have dark secrets that haunt them and lead these families to break apart. Showing the true face of humanity and discussing the theme of corruption in nuclear families is Shepard’s goal. Through this outstanding play, he truly achieves this goal in which the characters are developed strategically to elaborate this theme.

Works Cited

Mir, Danish, and R Vijaya. “Familial Disintegration: A Study Of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child”. International Journal of Academic Research and Development, vol 2, no. 6, 2017, pp. 612-615. ResearchGate.

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Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. Random House Publishing Group, 2009.

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