The Brothers Lee and Austin in Sam Shepard's American Siblings

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The Brothers Lee and Austin in Sam Shepard's American Siblings

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. 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.


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...n 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.


True West, by Sam Shepard

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