True West, Sam Shepard

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Seven Deadly Sins of Sons
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 guidelines—the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the seven holy virtues, etc.—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. Shepard’s True West captures the struggle between brothers and what could happen when apathy consumes them. Ironically, each of the seven deadly sins—lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride—and the seven holy virtues—chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility—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 convey—denial of one’s moral responsibility and isolation of one’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 play’s protagonist, portraying humility, kindness, and diligence as he puts up with his brother’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, “Don’t you say that to me! Don’t you ever say that to me!” (11). Here Shepard embodies pride, opposing humility. Of course, Austin’s humility doesn’t last long when the script he has been writing is dropped when his producer chooses Lee’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 “a bullshit story,” and proclaims that he’s “the one who’s in touch” with society, not Lee (36, 43). The patience that Austin had shown in scene four when he helped Lee write an outline is now a victim to pride since Lee is the one benefiting.

Besides pride, another prevalent embodiment of the seven deadly sins is Austin and Lee’s envy for each other. At the very end of act one, Lee confesses that he has “always wondered what’d be like to be [Austin]” and Austin admits that he had done the same, thinking to himself, “ Lee’s got the right idea. He’s out there in the world and here I am. What am I doing?” (32). The point that Shepard is trying to make is that neither should envy the other because they are both in opposite ends of society’s spectrum, and therefore still lost and unbalanced. Neither wealth nor poverty should cause each of the brother’s to strive for what the other possesses but, as the reader sees later, Austin yearns for Lee’s life in the desert and Lee attempts to earn Austin’s wealth and success. This grass-is-always-greener mentality nearly leads both to...
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