True West | Study Guide

Sam Shepard

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True West | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary



Back in the alcove in the morning, Austin waters plants and Lee drinks beer. Lee has toured the house and noticed their mother locked up her valuables. Austin suggests the antiques have meaning to her, and Lee scoffs. Why would she keep "phony" plates with "Idaho decals," of all things? He doesn't want to be "invaded by Idaho" when he's eating.

Austin asks if Lee went out the night before. Lee did; the coyotes kept him awake. Austin reminds Lee he doesn't sleep anyway. Lee replies Austin must be "pretty smart." Even though he's never been more "on the ball" than Lee, he's getting invited to important people's homes while Lee's breaking into them! Austin offers to make Lee breakfast, and Lee repeats he can take care of himself.

Lee tells Austin he spent last night wandering around the Mojave Desert, escaping the nighttime heat. Up where their mother lives, Lee says, construction's "wiped out" the landscape. The brothers reminisce about playing in the desert as children. Austin asks Lee if he saw any houses on his walk. Lee describes a large house "like a paradise" decorated like a magazine spread, a "place you wish you sorta' grew up in." Austin thought Lee hated fancy houses but Lee responds Austin doesn't know much about him. Austin asks why Lee moved out to the desert in the first place and he says he was on the way to see their father, but ended up staying in the Mojave for three months. Austin is surprised: three months of solitude? Even three nights would drive Austin crazy. But Lee says he didn't mind.

Austin then says a producer is coming to the house later to discuss a project. He asks if he can have the house to himself for a few hours. Lee agrees—if he can borrow the car. Austin again refuses. Lee accuses his brother of trying to "hustle" the producer. No, Austin says, he just wants to "convince him it's a worthwhile story." After Lee offers to "convince him for ya'" Austin reluctantly agrees to loan Lee the car, as long as he'll return it by six. Austin wishes he didn't have the appointment since he wanted to spend more time with Lee. But Lee's already headed out the door with the car keys. Lee adds if the producer doesn't like Austin's idea, he has some projects in mind—"real commercial. Full a' suspense. True-to-life stuff."


Austin is still the responsible brother, watering his mother's plants as requested. Lee's derision of his mother's "junk" antique plates that disturb diners with the image of the remote state of Idaho shows apparent contempt for material wealth. To Lee the plates are purely there to show off since they aren't worth any money. But later the audience will learn that Lee's contempt is not heartfelt. The plates will recur in Scene 9 when Lee, who's glimpsed a different life, decides he wants them after all.

The desert surroundings become clearer to the audience in Scene 2. The coyotes are more of a threat. Austin alludes to wild coyotes killing domesticated pet dogs. Lee tells him the desert coyotes are more intimidating and primal since "They don't yap ... They howl." The urban development in town appears positively "built up" to Austin and negatively "wiped out" to Lee, a seeming major difference to the brothers.

Sound and silence frame the play in the audience's imagination. The ever-present yapping of the coyotes and chirping of the crickets contrasts with the "sweet kinda' suburban silence" Lee saw on his nighttime walk. In the play, sound is chaos, while silence is peace. The character development of the two brothers shows in the tone and sound of their dialogue. Their voices start out completely different, then begin to sound the same.

The house Lee describes is a peaceful image he compares to the stylized, unreal portrayals in magazines. Austin will invoke the idea of "paradise" to describe a similar suburban home in Scene 7, when he and Lee are switching roles. For now Austin is surprised that Lee is attracted to such a domestic, innocent image. But Lee has tapped into a deep pain and longing for an ideal he'll never achieve. The house "sorta' kills ya' inside" because no one can achieve the fantasy of the perfect life. It's always out of reach to everyone.

Even Austin has trouble reaching the impossible ideal. His own desperation and keenness to succeed become clear in this scene. Austin represents the profit motivations of the new urbanized West, which is an entirely different ecosystem than Lee's ruthless desert. In the new West people have to build relationships, networking and charming others to get ahead. They have to respect authority rather than challenge it. Their behavior has to be honest and straightforward. And they have to earn the right to be heard. Austin, though, is still at the bottom of the food chain. The audience never learns much about his project. It's a "period piece" and a "love story"—genres the audience may consider artificial and mannered—and it has great personal meaning to Austin. He will struggle to prove himself and to convince Saul Kimmer his narrative deserves to be told.

In Lee's more brutal world anyone who wants power has to seize it for himself. The only way to get ahead is by hustling or tricking others. He doesn't have patience for Austin's more delicate maneuvers. Austin can't imagine living outside the social framework of family and friends—he wouldn't "spend three nights in a motel by myself." But Lee has no use for the expectations and codes of society.

Still, Lee's sensitive to the way Austin is pointedly excluding him from the Hollywood world. And Austin tentatively expresses a real desire to reconnect with Lee. The hint of admiration and respect, the way the brothers want to have a relationship but can't express this desire, makes the characters more poignant. Both are invested in the performance of masculinity and strength, especially Lee, and neither wants to back down and admit need—at least not yet.

When Lee hints about a story, neither Austin nor the audience takes him seriously. He hasn't earned credibility in the new West. But the next scene will upend several assumptions about Lee's inability to survive in the city.

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