American Siblings By Shephard Essay

True West is an intense dramatization of the relationship between two brothers:
Lee and Austin. As each scene progresses, the brothers’ rivalry and animosity
towards each other become more and more apparent, building towards a single
emotionally involving climax. Throughout the play, the characters undergo subtle
changes as each brother subconsciously attempts to absorb the part of the other
brother’s life which he feels might complete him. This role reversal is the
pivotal instrument in which Sam Sheppard shows the intensity of sibling rivalry.

The play starts en medea res. Lee and Austin have not talked to each other in
some time, and Lee obviously resents Austin. In the conversation Lee almost has
something to prove to Austin. A few sentences into the conversation, Austin’s
estimation of Lee and Lee’s hostile resentment of this view become apparent:
AUSTIN: I’ve got too much to deal with here to be worrying about? LEE: Yer
not gonna’ have to worry about me! I’ve been doin’ all right without you.

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I haven’t been anywhere near you for five years! Now isn’t that true? (P. 8)
Austin clearly thinks of his brother as a responsibility, and does not think of
him as an equal, much less as someone who can take care of himself. For Lee on
the other hand, being looked down upon by his younger brother is insulting.

Lee’s reaction to his brother is immediately defensive. When the subject of
Lee staying at their mother’s house comes up, Lee snaps at Austin: AUSTIN:
Well, you can stay here as long as I’m here. LEE: I don’t need your
permission do I? And later, LEE: She might’ve just as easily asked me to take
care of her place as you. AUSTIN: That’s right. LEE: I mean I know how to
water plants. (P.7) Throughout this scene, Lee’s hostile attitude towards
Austin constantly disrupts the flow of the conversation, and is a continual
reminder that these two men have an unresolved internal conflict. Both brothers
realize that they each come from two different walks of life, but it is Austin
who chooses to believe that his way of life is superior. While Austin has, as
Lee puts it, “…the wife and kiddies…the house, the car, the whole
slam…(p.9),” we never discover if Lee owns anything at all, or is just a
transient burglar. Lee has much to be jealous of in Austin. Austin, however, has
very little to be jealous of in Lee. Lee is a thief who hasn’t ever settled
down into anything. In this first scene, the overall emphasis of power between
the brothers is material possessions, and Austin definitely has the power over
Lee. The first scene defines each character and what they are. Austin is an
ambitious man who wants very badly to finish his movie script and sell it. He
says to his scripting agent, “I’ve got everything riding on this, Saul. You
know that. It’s my only shot. If this falls through…(P. 35).” At the same
time he is very patient and timid with his brother. Lee is very competitive,
emotionally explosive and content to scrape by with the minimum of money. He
does not feel that he is socially fit to live in a social community, as he says:
LEE: This is the last time I try to live with people! (P. 46) And later, LEE:
Hey, do you actually think I chose to live out in the middle a’ nowhere? Do ya’?
Ya’ think its some kinda’ philosophical decision I took or somethin’?
I’m livin’ out there ?cause I can’t make it here! (P. 49) The first
major change in one of the brothers is in Austin. After Austin’s agent offers
Lee a deal which Austin was hoping to get, Austin almost refuses to believe it.

When Lee needs Austin to be his writer, Austin becomes adamantly against Lee,
and furiously tries to talk his agent out of the deal with Lee. Throughout the
play until this point, Lee’s dialogue has been considerably lengthier than
Austin’s has. In this scene, Austin’s dialogue is explosive in its length
when compared with Lee’s sparse one liners. This change marks the end of the
way things used to be for them. Austin’s reaction to his brother is not the
timid, patient person who we met in the first scene. In contrast, while Lee is
being a little more ambitious and social than we have been led to believe he
normally is, the major change is that it is Lee who is calm and timid when
Austin becomes infuriated: AUSTIN: Yeah, well you can afford to give me a
percentage on the outline then. And you better get the genius here an agent
before he gets burned. LEE: Saul’s gonna’ be my agent. Isn’t that right,
Saul? (P.34) While these behavioral changes don’t necessarily mean that the
brothers’ roles have switched, in scene seven, role changing is blatantly
obvious. In a reversal of the play’s opening scene, Lee is trying to write the
draft of his story, and Austin is the constant disruption: LEE: (slams fist on
table) Hey! Knock it off will ya’! I’m tryin’ to concentrate here. AUSTIN:
(laughs) You’re tryin’ to concentrate? LEE: Shut up will ya’! And later,
LEE: I’m a screenwriter now! I’m legitimate. (P.37) Lee’s cry that he is”legitimate” shows that he has been more concerned with his illegitimate
past than he has let on. He wants to be part of society, and he thinks he has
finally found an outlet for that part of himself in his brother’s life. When
he tells his brother that he is “legitimate” and a “screenwriter,” he is
really trying to convince himself. For Austin, his Lee has been more successful
in Austin’s business than Austin has, and in just a few days. His rivalry is
determined to fight back, “You really don’t think I could steal a crumby
toaster? How much you wanna’ bet I can’t steal a toaster! (P.38)”
Austin’s assimilation of Lee is apparent in other ways as well, as he begins
to sound more and more like his brother: AUSTIN: Don’t worry about me. I’m
not the one to worry about. (P. 38) And later, AUSTIN: I can take care a’
myself. Don’t worry about me. (P. 39) In foreshadowing, Austin later says,
“Yeah, well we all sound alike when we’re sloshed. We just sorta’ echo
each other.(P.39)” Each of the brothers has taken on characteristics of the
other brother, and they each learn something about themselves in the process.

With the culmination of the tense last scene, Lee realizes that he is not meant
to live like Austin, and he knows that Austin wouldn’t be able to live with
him on the desert. When Austin snaps, and begins choking Lee, he makes an almost
complete role reversal. His own greed and disregard for others leads him to
attack his own brother, whom he has subconsciously used for a role model
throughout the play. Lee on the other hand becomes more focused and calm as the
play proceeds. With the unresolved ending, the play leaves the resolution of the
two brothers up to speculation. While neither of the brothers knows what will
happen to themselves, their mother says it best, “I see. Well, you’ll all
wind up on the same desert sooner or later.(P53)” Neither of the brothers has
acted in a particularly normal fashion throughout the play, and it is only when
their mother comes home that they realize they have trashed the house. The
exchange of culture between the two brothers not only allows each brother to
glimpse into the others’ life, but also creates a chaotic environment in which
the brothers become overcome with sibling rivalry.


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