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True West | Motifs



In some ways, drinking holds the family together. Austin and Lee bond and become more honest when they're both drunk. They also grow more prone to violence, and their identities begin to merge. "We all sound alike when we're sloshed," Austin says. They also renew a certain lost connection with their father, who drank away all his money even after Austin's bailout. Once Austin's drunk, he can tell Lee a story about their father at the end of Scene 7.

Heavy drinking, like theft, is a behavior discouraged in most social settings. In Lee's solitary, isolated existence, though, he can drink as much as he chooses. To Lee, alcohol replaces the social engagement required in a world where he doesn't think he can make it. Austin, though more connected to social mores and values, also feels isolated. The brothers create their own sense of community and society through alcohol. When Lee and Austin drink to excess, they're rejecting the new West's codes of success and searching for the genuine emotion of the old West.

Television and Movies

Television and movies reveal how characters recognize the artifice in on-screen images of American life, but long to be a part of the artificial world anyway. Lee appears to reject televised entertainment. When he steals a TV, he says people don't need their TVs anyway. Yet he desperately wants to write his own movie. Austin knows television and movies are explicitly about sales, packaging the West into fantasy spaghetti westerns with improbable plots and following money instead of craft. But he still wants his big break as a TV writer. Even though the brothers know they're being sold a false bill of goods, they can't help but want what's being sold.

Coyotes and Crickets

The desert animals' constant presence in the background reinforces the theme of the American West. In a production note Shepard compares Southern California's coyotes to hyenas in their "intense and maniacal" barks and pack instinct. The brothers mention how coyotes murder domesticated dogs, and the image adds to the play's sense of encroaching danger, fear, and pursuit. Crickets, like the southwestern heat, provide a constant background irritation meant to increase the play's sense of claustrophobia.

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