True West | Study Guide

Sam Shepard

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "True West Study Guide." Course Hero. 11 Dec. 2017. Web. 16 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, December 11). True West Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "True West Study Guide." December 11, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2018.


Course Hero, "True West Study Guide," December 11, 2017, accessed November 16, 2018,

True West | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary



In the afternoon of the same day, Austin sits in the alcove with producer Saul Kimmer, who is enthusiastic about Austin's script idea and plans to get "some seed money" before Austin writes a draft. Lee returns, carrying a stolen television set, and apologizes for intruding. Austin introduces Saul and Lee, adding Lee lives "out on the desert." Saul politely asks if Lee lives in Palm Springs, and Lee says he does. When Saul praises the Palm Springs golf courses, Lee mentions he plays golf and suggests the two get together for a game. Despite Austin saying Lee is only "down for a visit," Lee cleverly and suavely talks Saul into joining him for an early game the next morning.

Once Saul agrees to reserve a golf course, Lee offers to leave so Austin and Saul can continue their meeting. He adds he "just got Austin's color TV back from the shop." Lee then asks Saul if he's involved in television—does he produce westerns? Austin tries to move Saul away from Lee, but Lee tells Saul he's got a great "contemporary Western" in mind. As Saul listens with polite interest, Lee graphically describes a scene from the western film Lonely Are the Brave. It's the one in which "the man dies for the love of a horse."

As Saul prepares to leave, Lee asks him one more time about his western script. Saul says if Lee dictates the story to Austin, he'll take a look at the outline. Saul exits, and Austin tells Lee to return the car keys. Lee just smiles.


The first two scenes established the brothers' characters, their desires, and their areas of conflict. Scene 3 begins the role reversal, pitting them against one another. At the beginning of the rising action, things look pretty good for Austin. He has a career, he has a plan, and he's won Saul over with his project. But in this this scene, the stage is set for a reversal of fortune. At first it will appear that Lee's fortune improves as Austin's declines, but as things develop, neither character has a straightforward arc. There are still surprises to come in the next scenes.

Saul as a character represents the practical, perhaps uncomplicated, money-minded and powerful men of Hollywood. Like the two brothers he's looking for a narrative—a good story. But his goal is turned outward, not inward. Saul wants to show American viewers stories they'll want to see. Do viewers want hopeful fantasy or gritty reality, he asks? Do they want unusual nuance or comforting clichés? Through Saul, Shepard explores how ideas like the wild West and the American dream are manufactured and sold, exploiting consumer hopes, desires, and longings. This approaches the theme of the play.

Lee enters the scene, symbolically, with a television. He doesn't want to escape through an imaginative TV show, but he does recognize a television will sell for a lot of money. And the TV gives him a convenient segue to pitch his script to Saul.

Lee's negotiating style in Scene 3 shows Austin—and the audience, watching through a mostly silent Austin's eyes—how crucially he's underestimated his brother. Lee plays the character of a wealthy Palm Springs golfer since he knows this character will interest Saul. Meanwhile Saul feigns polite interest in Lee's rambling dialogue. Both men are performing skillfully.

The scene also brings up the different codes of the new West and the old West. When Saul suggests a golf game, it's merely a formality, not an actual offer. In the new West people like Saul are too busy to play golf with someone they've just met. But Lee sees an opportunity to get ahead and maybe to earn himself a spot in Austin's world. In the old West people do what they say they'll do. And men have a "real sense a' fraternity"—intimate friends in a sense, until they're enemies.

Characters in True West continually challenge each other. Pauses in the script, like when Lee suggests orange juice or reminds Saul of the golf date, indicate characters are trying to figure out what to say or do next. Something has changed; someone has issued a challenge or been challenged himself. As the scene develops, Lee becomes more menacing and more powerful. The bond between Saul and Austin becomes a bond between Saul and Lee. Near the end of the scene Lee blocks Saul's way out the door, indicating he's about to intervene directly, so his possible threatening of Saul becomes more plausible.

The tragic story Lee tells from the film Lonely Are the Brave catches Saul, Austin, and the audience off guard. Lee holds them momentarily captive. His story gets at real emotion and loss. The stakes were high in the old West—the true West where not everyone survived. Lonely Are the Brave has been called "one of the bleakest westerns ever to grace the big screen." The 1962 film, acknowledged by critics other than Lee as one of the greats, shows how the genre can go beyond clichéd morality plays and produce real scenes of human tragedy.

Why did Lee pick this quiet moment of suffering, rather than a more dynamic shootout or moment of heroism, as the Western scene he remembers? Does the true West require pain, loss, and death? The audience isn't sure yet what to expect from Lee's screenplay. But the final exchange between the brothers—Lee's smile and refusal to return the car keys—shows he knew what he was doing all along.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about True West? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!