Buried Child

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Buried Child Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sam Shepard's Buried Child. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard was born in rural Illinois to a farmer and a teacher. He worked on a ranch in his youth before moving to New York in 1962, where he first lived with Charlie Mingus Jr., son of the great jazz bassist. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Shepard was involved in both the theatre and in folk music, winning many independent theatre awards and collaborating with such stars as Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, with whom he was romantically involved at the time. Shepard was also a regular at the Chelsea Hotel, which was a hotbed for music, poetry, and theatre. In the mid 1970s, some of his most famous plays were produced in San Francisco, including True West, Curse of the Starving Class, and Buried Child. Buried Child garnered Shepard mainstream attention and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1978. Around this time, Shepard began his career as a film actor. He has written over 40 plays and has acted in well over 50 film and television shows, even earning an Academy Award nomination in 1983. Shepard is also an author, screenwriter, and director of theatre and film.
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Historical Context of Buried Child

In the mid 1970s, an oil crisis and a stock market crash led to an economic recession, including incredibly high rates of inflation and unemployment in the United States. Buried Child, which premiered in 1978, portrays a Middle-American agricultural family effected by this period of financial stagnation, as evidenced by their less-than prosperous farm. More broadly, the family and its thwarted dreams can more generally be seens as representing an America that, in the late 1970s, had become worried about its future as a moral and economic leader of the world.

Other Books Related to Buried Child

Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, considered to be the quintessential American family drama, was a major early influence on Shepard’s work. Although it too centers on a dysfunctional family, Shepard says that his goal was to “destroy the idea of the American family drama.” In addition, Buried Child is part of Shepard’s Family Trilogy, which also includes Curse of the Starving Class, and True West. Each of these plays explores themes of family and the American Dream.
Key Facts about Buried Child
  • Full Title: Buried Child
  • When Written: The mid-1970s
  • Where Written: San Francisco
  • When Published: 1978
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: The living room of a rural Illinois farmhouse, 1978
  • Climax: When Dodge admits to the infanticide
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient (theater)

Extra Credit for Buried Child

Firsts. Buried Child was the first Off-Broadway play to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Autobiographical. Although Buried Child is a work of fiction, Shepard seems to draw on details from his own life. Like Dodge, Shepard’s father was an alcoholic farmer, and like Vince, Shepard left his rural home to pursue the arts.