True West | Study Guide

Sam Shepard

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True West | Act 2, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

That night, Lee types by candlelight. Austin is lying on the floor, drunk, and singing loudly, to Lee's annoyance. The coyotes and crickets are back out in full force, and Lee can't concentrate on his script. A drunk Austin suggests Saul thinks he and Lee are the same person. Lee tells Austin to go outside instead and drink. Austin says Lee will still have to deal with crickets, coyotes, and "Police Helicopters ... Hunting for the likes of you."

Lee protests he's a screenwriter now. Austin laughs. Since Lee is so good at his trade, he says, maybe he should try Lee's job and steal a television. Lee replies Austin couldn't even steal a toaster. Austin thinks he can—does Lee want to bet? Lee offers to bet Austin's car or his house, or he'll give Austin screen credit if he wins. But Austin wants "something of value" on the table. When Lee threatens to kick him out, Austin says he'll take a walk in the desert, but he's too drunk to stand.

Concerned, Lee asks if he should call Austin's wife. Austin stands up again. His wife is far away, he says, and he doesn't need help. He's going to commit bigger crimes than Lee can imagine. And he's looking forward to a walk through the neighborhood at night. "We're livin' in a Paradise," he tells Lee. Lee says he sounds like their father. Maybe the two could bring their father out to live near them, Lee suggests. Austin swings at Lee and screams he's done with their father. He went out of his way to help their father, Austin claims, and got nothing in return.

Lee asks Austin for a little help with the characters in his story. "Those are illusions of characters," Austin says, "fantasies of a long lost boyhood." He adds Lee bullied Saul into a deal, and now Lee has to hold up his end of the bargain. Lee offers to split the money with Austin and disappear forever after the script's done. Their father tried to disappear, Austin points out, and ended up losing his teeth. Lee hasn't heard this story. He joins Austin for a drink.

Their father's teeth started falling out, Austin says in a bizarre story. The government stipend he received didn't cover the cost of removing all the teeth. Instead their father found a low-cost dentist in Mexico. It took him eight days to travel to the border, where the dentist took "all his money and all his teeth." Austin went to visit their father and took him out to a Chinese restaurant. Their father put his extracted teeth in a bag with the food leftovers, then took Austin out drinking. At some point in the night they lost the bag of teeth. They looked later but they couldn't find the bag. "Now that's a true story," Austin adds as the brothers continue to drink.

Analysis

Shepard's production notes for the play say Scenes 7 and 8 should be marked by "the sense of growing frenzy in the [coyote] pack." Sound returns as an important force. The louder noise from the coyotes mirrors the increasingly fractured emotional and physical states of the characters. The cadence of the dialogue—Austin's now slurring his words—makes the characters "sorta' echo each other," as Austin says.

The two brothers have reversed roles already here. Each brother is now an exaggerated version of the other one's persona in the first scene. Lee is a more belligerent writer, demanding quiet and solitude. Austin is a more irritating drinker, unapologetic about interrupting Lee. Both have unleashed traits deep within themselves they never would have admitted were there. The brothers are shown as two sides of the same person—two sides fundamentally at odds.

In Scene 7 each brother must come to terms with his incorrect assumption the other's life is easy. Austin uses hyperbole to claim he'll commit "crimes beyond the imagination." He still senses Lee's theft is part of a fantasy he can act out, like the storybook "fantasies of a long lost boyhood" he sees in Lee's characters. Meanwhile, Lee's failure to adapt to his new role shows in his comic tangling of the typewriter ribbon. Austin tells Lee the truth about his life, a sentiment Lee will repeat to Austin in Scene 8. His career takes hard work, sacrifice, and facing the real possibility of failure. Stakes are high. Second chances don't exist. Each brother tries to prove himself by implying he's the real man, the one who really struggles.

As the rising action moves toward its climax, pressure begins to close in around the brothers. Austin's suggestion of police helicopters hunting Lee recalls the chase in Lee's script. Austin senses he has become the "intruder" or the antagonist, while Lee's the one pleading for help. The hunter and the hunted have switched places in the brothers' revolving identities.

In the final three acts the brothers become increasingly aware any ideal or fantasy they've hoped for has disappeared. Austin says "the days of Champagne are long gone"—fortune and prosperity, represented by champagne, aren't going to return. The brothers switch to drinking beer and whiskey, both associated with the working class. Austin describes a suburban "Paradise" similar to the house Lee described in Scene 2. Now both brothers are in a sense standing outside of a peaceful, happy illusion of American life, and they're not allowed in. There's a sense of longing in both monologues.

When Austin says "Nobody can disappear," he hints at a genuine fear of his family legacy and what it means. The "old man" brings out a special rage in both brothers. Austin's unsuccessful attempt to help his father strikes a nerve. Austin cared for his family, he did what he was supposed to do, and it didn't help. His father kept seeking a way out. Mom's sought an escape, too—in Alaska. As Austin tells an anecdote about their father, the brothers bond over the shared worry they'll join their parents in searching for an illusory escape hatch. They worry they, too, will find themselves trapped.

The bizarre story about their father's teeth returns to a central question of the play: What makes a story true? The father's story is like a western. It involves a man on a quest, without government assistance and traveling through extreme climates in "eight days in the rain and the sun." Like Lee's characters he's headed south to Mexico. But unlike a western, the story has no moral. The ending is anticlimactic. They never find the teeth, itself an absurd situation. Their father's plight doesn't improve after his journey. Instead, it becomes marginally worse. The truth of the story emerges in its refusal to follow narrative convention and make any kind of sense.

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