Buried Child | Study Guide

Sam Shepard

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Course Hero. "Buried Child Study Guide." Course Hero. 16 Aug. 2019. Web. 2 Dec. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Buried-Child/>.

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Course Hero. (2019, August 16). Buried Child Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Buried-Child/

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Buried Child Study Guide." August 16, 2019. Accessed December 2, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Buried-Child/.


Course Hero, "Buried Child Study Guide," August 16, 2019, accessed December 2, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Buried-Child/.

Buried Child | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Act 1

It is daytime. Dodge sits, watching television and coughing. He bickers with Halie, his wife, who is getting dressed upstairs. Halie acts concerned about Dodge's failing health but plans on going out to meet Father Dewis, a minister whom she wants to create a memorial to the couple's late son, Ansel. Dodge is concerned that his son, Bradley, will give him a bad haircut, which he has done—badly—in the past. Halie informs him that their son, Tilden, will protect him.

Tilden enters, carrying large amounts of corn that, he says, he picked from their fields. Dodge is dubious: their fields have been lying dormant since the 1930s. Dodge believes Tilden stole the corn. Tilden denies this and starts husking the corn. Halie, who has now come downstairs dressed in mourning attire, says that Bradley will get angry if he sees the husks all over. Dodge criticizes Bradley. Halie chides him for saying bad things about his flesh and blood. Dodge responds, "My flesh and blood's out there in the backyard." They all freeze.

Halie leaves, leaving Tilden to take care of Dodge. Dodge puts on a cap so that Bradley can't cut his hair. He goes to sleep. Tilden gathers the corn husks and spreads them over Dodge's sleeping body. When he leaves, Bradley enters. Bradley has a limp from a chainsaw accident in which he lost his leg. After ascertaining that his mother isn't home, he sneaks up on Dodge, takes out a pair of electric clippers, and takes off Dodge's baseball cap. Then, he shears Dodge's hair.

Act 2

That night, Vince, Tilden's son, arrives at the house with his girlfriend, Shelly, who presents the only outside point of view in the play. It's been six years since Vince has seen his father. He doesn't realize that Tilden lives with his parents and thinks he's stopping by to see his grandparents on the way to see his father in New Mexico. Shelly comments on the house, which looks "like a Norman Rockwell cover or something." At first, she seems happy, though she doesn't entirely understand why they are there. As soon as they get inside the house and wake Dodge, who is still sleeping from Act 1, she gets very nervous. He makes some offensive comments and asks for his bottle, which he says Vince took. Vince is surprised to hear that Tilden lives there. He also looks for his "Grandma," Halie, whom he says he's met before.

Tilden enters, carrying armloads of carrots this time. Vince tries repeatedly to explain who he is and remind Dodge and Tilden that he saw them six years ago. Neither Dodge nor Tilden appears to recognize Vince nor remember that he even exists. Tilden says he remembers "a face inside" Vince's face. Vince tries to get them to remember him.

Dodge asks Vince to go get him a bottle of liquor. Shelly doesn't want to be left alone with Dodge, but Vince goes anyway. While Vince is gone, Tilden asks to see Shelly's rabbit fur coat. He recalls that he did have a son, but Dodge drowned him in the sink, and they buried him. Dodge yells at Tilden not to talk about it. Bradley enters and asks Shelly to open her mouth wide so he can stick his hand inside it. Compliantly, she obeys. He takes her rabbit fur coat and drapes it over Dodge.

Act 3

The next morning, Dodge and Bradley are sleeping downstairs. Shelly, who slept upstairs overnight out of fear of Bradley, brings Dodge a cup of bouillon. She says she feels comfortable in the house, like it's her house. She talks to Dodge about the photographs she saw, of the family when they were young, in front of a field full of corn. Shelly asks if Tilden is telling the truth about the baby. This leads to Dodge being concerned about where Tilden is. He's been gone all night, and Dodge wonders if he might have wandered off and gotten into trouble.

Halie enters with Father Dewis, a minister. She is wearing a yellow dress and is obviously tipsy. Hearing her, Dodge covers his head with Shelly's rabbit fur jacket and pretends to be asleep. Halie is carrying a bouquet of roses, which she sniffs and refers to several times in the act, saying they "almost cover the stench of sin in this house." She is embarrassed that Bradley has his wooden leg off. She tries to cover the leg up with the jacket, which Dodge demands back. She gives him a blanket instead. Shelly says she's with their grandson, the one nobody remembers. However, later in the act, Halie will say she does remember Vince. She remembers him as a good baby who never cried.

Bradley wakes up and gets into an argument with Shelly, who takes away his wooden leg. Halie threatens to call the police, but the others all agree it's best not to involve them. They hide things in their family. Dodge tells the story of the buried child, which was a baby Halie had several years after she and Dodge had stopped sleeping together. Tilden was always carrying it around and doting on it, and Dodge knew that would make the family look bad, so Dodge killed it.

Vince returns, very drunk, and tries to get in the house. Shelly wants to leave, but he finally goes inside. Dodge says he is leaving Vince his house and furniture, but he wants his farm equipment burned. Shelly is surprised that Vince doesn't want to leave. He says, "I've gotta carry on the line ... I've gotta see to it that things keep rolling." He relates a story about looking in the car window and seeing his face become his father's face and his grandfather's and beyond. He knew he had to stay. Shelly leaves.

Bradley tries to get his wooden leg back from Vince. Vince moves it further and further away until, finally, he throws it outside. Vince says it's his house now, and he needs to get some of the vermin out. Dewis tells Vince he should see his grandmother. Dewis leaves.

Dodge has died. Vince places the roses on Dodge's body. Halie's voice is heard from upstairs. She talks to Dodge, saying that Tilden was right. Crops are really growing. As she continues talking, Tilden enters. He holds the baby he has dug up from the ground. Halie keeps talking, saying, "Good hard rain. Takes everything straight down deep to the roots." She continues, saying she's never seen a crop like this: "You can't force a thing to grow."

Buried Child Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Dodge and Halie bicker.

Rising Action

2 Tilden enters with corn; his parents think he's stolen it.

3 Dodge says his flesh and blood is buried in the yard.

4 Bradley enters and cuts Dodge's hair.

5 Vince arrives with Shelly.

6 Dodge sends Vince out to buy liquor.

7 Tilden says he had a baby, which Dodge drowned.

8 All are concerned about Tilden going missing.

9 Dodge admits that Halie had a baby, which he drowned.

10 Vince returns and breaks into the house.


11 Dodge gives the house to Vince.

Falling Action

12 Vince says he's staying, and Shelly leaves.

13 Dodge dies while no one is looking.

14 Halie announces there really are crops growing.


15 Tilden brings in an infant's dug-up corpse.

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