Sam Shepard Questions for English 222 American Literature, CSU Fullerton

E222 SAM SHEPHARD QUESTIONS, CSU FULLERTON

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SAM SHEPARD

True West (Norton Vol. E 870-909).

True West, Act 1 (Norton Vol. E 870-87)

Scene 1 (871-75)

1. What contrasts and tensions between Austin and Lee already begin to show in the first scene of True West, when Lee shows up at their mother's home where Austin is temporarily house-sitting? What is the two brother's common background, and yet how are they different in terms of personality and outlook?

Scene 2 (875-78)

2. In Scene 2 of True West, Lee mentions that he has some experience in the realm of art, which may come as a surprise to us. Why does Lee bring this up with Austin in the course of their continuing conversation, and how does this new piece of information change the dynamic between Austin and Lee?

Scene 3 (879-82)

3. How does Lee upstage his brother Austin in Scene 3 of True West? How do you interpret the interaction between producer Saul Kimmer and Lee -- does Saul appear to take Lee seriously at this point? If he does, what is it that he likes about Austin's elder brother?

Scene 4 (882-87)

4. In Scene 4 of True West, why is Lee so ambivalent about his new project, which involves using his imagination and Austin's skills as a writer to set down his Western story as a screenplay? What's the basis of the tension between Lee and Austin with regard both to the lives they've led up to now and the kind of cinema they prefer? In responding to the latter question, consider what the brothers say about concepts such as being true-to-life and authentic in one's delineation of character and action.

True West, Act 2 (Norton Vol. E 887-909)

Scene 5 (887-90)

5. In Scene 5 of True West, how did Lee (according to his own report on the matter) manage to convince Saul that he ought to accept his Western-themed story at the expense of Austin's love story? What is recounted about Saul's supposed view of the film industry's ways and needs?

Scene 6 (890-93)

6. In Scene 6 of True West, Austen and Saul argue about the quality of Lee's story, which is to be developed into a screenplay. They are also arguing about what is meant by "authenticity" and "the West," a conversation that the two brothers started in the previous scene. According to Saul, then, what makes Lee's story worthwhile, and what seems to be Lee's problem with Saul's analysis of Lee's imaginative efforts?

7. With regard to your own understanding of the Western film genre, what makes for a good Western? What makes for a bad one, and why? How does "the West" often figure even in films or television shows that aren't directly Westerns at all? Briefly discuss an example or two that you can think of.

Scene 7 (893-97)

8. In Scene 7 of True West, explore the role reversal that occurs between Austin and Lee – how thorough is this reversal, one that sees Lee trying to become a serious screenwriter and Austin wanting to escape to the desert? What are its limitations or boundaries?

9. In Scene 7 of True West, Lee recounts a story about his father's quest to get his teeth removed and obtain a set of false teeth. How does that story go, and to what extent does it successfully unfold Lee's notions about true-to-life, authentic narration?

Scene 8 (898-903)

10. In Scene 8 of True West, why does Lee take to beating Austin's typewriter with one of the golf clubs that Saul gave him? What are the terms of the deal the two brothers make towards the end of this scene, and by what process have they arrived at it, based on what you've noted about the earlier part of the scene?

Scene 9 (903-09)

11. In Scene 9 of True West, what effect does the return of Austin and Lee's mother have on events? How does she greet her sons, and how does she react to the news that they plan to go to the desert, and then to the nearly lethal confrontation they get into in her presence? What about her clumsy interest in Pablo Picasso and the exhibit of his work that's supposedly coming to town soon – what does that tell us about "Mom," and how might her confused remarks in this vein relate to the struggle between Austin and Lee?

12. In Scene 9 of True West, how would you describe the final state of affairs between Austin and Lee? Why have they fallen to fighting instead of pursuing the deal that they made back in Scene 8? How have each of the two men changed, if at all, from the beginning of the play, and what change, if any, is there in their prospects for a more meaningful or satisfying life in the future?

13. In Scene 9 of True West, Austin and Lee end up confronting each other in their childhood home, but the space they occupy is described by the stage directions as "a vast desert-like landscape" (909). We know that the desert is a (perhaps the) traditional symbolic site of "the West," both in films and in everyday life. So how do you interpret the symbolism of this setting for the final struggle between Lee and Austin? What does the play's title True West mean to you by this point in the action?