Introductory Information and Interpretation
The Opening Scene
I. A highly atmospheric scenery
According to the introductory stage direction to this first scene,
the spectator is confronted with a very atmospheric scene as soon as
the curtain opens. The play starts with a silent stand-off between Austin
and his brother Lee. Already their outward appearance – described
in the initial stage direction to the drama – make the audience
conscious of the duality of the brothers. However, this discrepancy
is stressed now by their appearance and behaviour on the stage. Austin
has all the equipment typical of a journalist or writer: "writing
notebook, pen ... , cigarette burning in ashtray, cup of coffee, typewriter
... stacks of paper, ...". Obviously, he is the conformist, and
the one who has made it, whereas his brother Lee seems to be the rebel
or drifter. ...
II. A Scene of Pinteresque Threat
In the course of the ensuing conversation between the two brothers we hear that Austin has agreed to housesit for his mother while she is on vacation in Alaska. Instead of finding peace and quiet for the writing of his manuscript in his mother’s home, he finds himself confronted with Lee who pesters him with questions. Being hunched over and absorbed in his work, Austin at first does not really listen to Lee’s questions, which he answers more or less casually and reluctantly with one or a few words. However, this changes soon, for Shepard succeeds in building up a strong Pinteresque sense of menace. By and by Austin becomes aware that his impolite and rude brother not only disturbs his work and disrupts his peace and solitude, but his presence is very threatening. As Lee becomes increasingly confrontational and aggressive, Austin reacts with barely disguised fear. Though Lee seems to have nothing but contempt for his brother’s way of life it soon dawns on Austin that his brother’s remark: “Kinda’ nice for you, huh? Whole place to yourself" contains a touch of envy. ... He envies his brother’s social and economic position and accuses him of arrogance. ... However, he tries to establish himself not only as equal ("I did a little art myself once") but even as superior to his brother. ... As Austin obviously fears his brother’s aggressive behaviour he tries to appease him by changing the subject. ... And for the first time he turns to his brother with a real question about "the old man", probably their father to whom Lee seems to have closer contact. Hardly has he asked his question than he must realize that instead of calming his brother down, he has increased Lee’s anger: "What d’ya’ want, an award? ... You were down there. He told me all about you." All Austin’s attempts to explain what he did are in vain, for his brother squelches them. Shocked by Lee’s growing hostility it dawns on him that he must get rid of this nagging voice as soon as possible. Therefore he asks cautiously: "You going to be down here very long , Lee?". As Lee gives no definite time for his departure Austin offers him to stay at his mother’s as long as he is there. Again he rouses his brother’s jealousy : "I mean she’s my mother, too, right? ... She might’ve just as easily asked me to take care of her place as you."
Sam Shepard , True West, Teacher's Manual
2. What role does "the old man" play? ...
3. What do we get to know about the two brothers? ...
II. The Atmosphere
1. Describe the atmosphere as depicted in the stage direction (11/1-7) ...
2. Show how the dialogue between the brothers contributes to the
creation of a Pinteresque atmosphere of menace.
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