True West | Study Guide

Sam Shepard

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True West | Act 2, Scene 5 | Summary



As the play moves along in time, the next morning Lee has returned from golf with Saul. He claims Saul liked the outline and gave him a fancy set of golf clubs as part of his advance. Austin is skeptical but praises Lee for getting Saul's approval. Most writers spend their whole lives waiting for a breakthrough, Austin says. He reminds Lee the deal isn't official, however, since there's no contract. Lee assures him Saul made a final commitment after the men "gambled for it" during the golf game, adding a new element to the story. Austin says they should toast and gets out a bottle of champagne.

Lee has more news: Austin will be writing the script. Austin protests he's already working on one, and Lee says Saul plans to drop Austin's story. Shocked, Austin tries to call Saul but can't reach him. He can't believe Saul would pick Lee's "idiotic" story of "two lamebrains chasing each other around Texas." Who would ever go see the film? Lee corrects him—it's a movie, not a film. Besides, he adds, Austin isn't the only one with good ideas.

Incredulous, Austin asks Lee if he physically harmed or threatened Saul. Lee says "I convinced him!" and lunges at Austin with a golf club, but stops before hitting him. Lee reiterates Saul genuinely liked his story, and he "beat [Saul] fair and square" in the bet. And even if law enforcement did come after him for threatening someone, Lee says, he could escape. Austin is the one stuck in town.

Still trying to understand what happened, Austin protests he wrote Lee's outline and deserves credit. He demands his car keys back from Lee so he can drive to the desert and think for a while. Lee refuses. They're "partners now," Lee says, and they have writing to do. So a new relationship of the brothers has begun.


The opening scene of Act 2 is when the role reversals begin in earnest, and the brothers begin to unravel. Lee gains narrative power while Austin loses it.

The audience never learns if Saul lost a bet or if Lee threatened him. Either way, the play implies Lee coerced Saul somehow. The play has conditioned the audience to believe Austin is the more trustworthy character since he's portrayed as more compassionate and levelheaded. So they're likely to believe Austin's version of events. But as the audience learns more about Austin and Lee in the frenetic second act of the play, their sympathies may change.

Lee wants Austin to think the merits of the story won Saul over, saying "he liked the outline already" and the gamble was just a formality. Still, the gamble represents the chance every Hollywood script takes. There's a great deal of effort, a lot of money on the table, and slim odds of success. Gambling is another convention of the western genre—betting was a high-stakes, high-intrigue way to decide important questions and build suspense.

Saul's idea of entertaining, robust "American movies" contrasts with Austin's more cosmopolitan idea of "films." Austin looks down on the formulaic spaghetti western. Lee thinks Austin's showing elitism and continually refers to his brother's "Ivy League" education and how it makes him think he's better than other people. But Austin realizes how much of his identity is wrapped up in his livelihood, his ideas, and his writing talent. His success is almost entirely out of his own control. He's at the whim of what sells. While Austin thinks Saul's appraisal of talent is genuine, Lee, a Hollywood outsider, has an entirely different take on it. Of course Saul tells everyone he likes their scripts; he gets ahead by lying, just like Lee, which binds them in a new relation.

Lee's angry at Austin's assumption he has no skills but physical intimidation, but he uses this same intimidation and power to trap Austin with a swing of the golf club. For his part, Austin has lost control. The way events are unfolding "doesn't make any sense." He begins to feel a strong need to escape, to go to the desert, to go West. This is the reader's first major clue that Austin's security and happiness aren't what they seem. He still believes in an orderly world with rhyme and reason, but his structure will morph into chaos and disorder quickly the closer he gets to his brother.

Lee continues his casual intimidation in the final line, giving Austin orders to "relax." The two will get to spend time together but not in a way either of them anticipated.

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