Buried Child

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Bradley Character Analysis

The other son of Dodge and Halie, and about five years younger than Tilden. Bradley is an amputee with a wooden leg—he supposedly cut his leg off with a chainsaw by accident. He is an aggressive bully toward his father, his older brother, and Vince’s girlfriend Shelly. At the end of each of the first two acts, Bradley asserts his authority by demonstrating his physical power over another character, but in the third act he is finally emasculated when his prosthetic leg is taken away from him.

Bradley Quotes in Buried Child

The Buried Child quotes below are all either spoken by Bradley or refer to Bradley. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Buried Child published in 2006.
Act 1 Quotes

Halie’s Voice: Tilden’s the oldest. He’ll protect you.

Dodge: Tilden can’t even protect himself.

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Halie (speaker), Tilden, Bradley
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Dodge, the ailing patriarch, is threatened by his son Bradley, who is violent and aggressive with him. In this exchange Dodge is worried that Bradley will shave his head while he is sleeping again, and Halie insists that their other son Tilden will protect him. This is another example of Halie's delusions, in which she imagines her family to be much more functional than it is. Tilden is clearly mentally disturbed and vulnerable, but Halie still insists (when not confronted by the actual presence of Tilden) that he is the beloved football star who can fulfill his role as oldest son. This is an example of Shepard casting doubt on the reality of the American Dream; Halie relies on the traditional idea that the oldest son would protect his father, but this has never been the reality of their family, which readers understand more and more as the family secrets come out. For his part, Dodge recognizes that Bradley is dangerous and Tilden is incapable, but the family has degenerated so much that nobody will listen to Dodge and provide the care he desires. Dodge's violence and cruelty to others makes this negligence seem understandable, but the unavoidable conclusion is that the family has descended into chaos.

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You’ve gotta watch out for him. It’s our responsibility. He can’t look after himself anymore, so we have to do it. Nobody else will do it. We can’t just send him away somewhere. If we had lots of money we could send him away. But we don’t. We never will. That’s why we have to stay healthy. You and me. Nobody’s going to look after us. Bradley can’t look after us. Bradley can hardly look after himself… I had no idea in the world that Tilden would be so much trouble. Who would have dreamed? Tilden was an All-American, don’t forget. Don’t forget that. Fullback. Or quarterback. I forget which.

Related Characters: Halie (speaker), Dodge, Tilden, Bradley
Page Number: 25-26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Halie moves between her nostalgic fantasies and her recognition of the decaying state of their family life. While she recognizes that her two sons are unable to take care of her and Dodge, it is absurd for her to insist that she and Dodge "have to stay healthy" and take care of Tilden, as Dodge is clearly near death and is incapable of taking care of his son. 

This also provides a classic example of Halie's nostalgia for a time in which she seems to believe her family embodied the American Dream, and her confusion over why the family has not turned out the way the American Dream promised. Halie can't understand why Tilden, since he used to be a star fullback, is now helpless and "so much trouble." This seems steeped in denial, since she and Tilden had an incestuous relationship that produced a child that Dodge murdered; any one of those factors could have deeply affected Tilden's adult life. In addition, the fact that Halie gives this speech in full earshot of Tilden shows the bizarre cruelty of the family, as Halie does not even attempt to spare Tilden his dignity by giving such a negative assessment of his potential in private. 

Halie: I don’t know what’s come over you, Dodge. I don’t know what in the world’s come over you. You’ve become an evil man. You used to be a good man.

Dodge: Six of one, half a dozen of another.

Halie: You sit here day and night, festering away! Decomposing! Smelling up the house with your putrid body! Hacking your head off till all hours of the morning! Thinking up mean, evil, stupid things to say about your own flesh and blood!

Dodge: He’s not my flesh and blood! My flesh and blood’s buried in the back yard!

The Baby

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Halie (speaker), Bradley
Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

If it isn't clear to the audience yet that something very bad has happened in this family, it should be now. This revelation comes at the end of an argument in which Dodge insulted Bradley, and instead of defending Bradley's worth or character, Halie resorts to berating Dodge for his willingness to insult their son. This argument is another example of the family's cruelty to one another and their constant leveraging of the past in order to gain power. Though it is not entirely clear why Dodge brings up the buried child, it seems that he understands that bringing it up would abruptly end the argument, since Halie, who lives in a nostalgic world of denial and fantasy, cannot address the reality of the dead child. This clearly shows how Dodge only acknowledges the child out of convenience, while Halie cannot acknowledge it at all. 

Dodge's statement about the child is complex, as it seems to imply that the child was his, though we learn later that it was Tilden's. Since Dodge's statement about the child comes after his disavowal of the familial tie between himself and Bradley, the statement can be read more broadly as an admission that the family ("flesh and blood") was ruined as a result of the murder of the child. 

Act 2 Quotes

Yeah, he used to be a big deal. Wore lettermen’s sweaters. Had medals hanging all around his neck. Real purty. Big deal. This one too. You’d never think it to look at him would ya? All bony and wasted away.

Related Characters: Bradley (speaker), Dodge, Tilden, Shelly
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradley (who, in a typical confusion of identities between family members, believes Shelly is with Tilden instead of Vince) is in this passage insulting Tilden in front of both Shelly and Tilden, in an effort to shame Tilden and assert Bradley's own power. This insult plays on the expectations of the American Dream, that the football star should turn out to be a successful adult. Bradley mockingly plays up Tilden's past in order to make it seem even more shameful that he has failed to live up to his youthful promise as an adult. This is an example of the ways in which family members in the play use distorted versions of the past to manipulate and hurt each other, and it also shows the dysfunctional dynamic between brothers. Instead of helping one another find the strength to care for their parents, the brothers are consumed by a bitter competition to assert themselves as the more powerful member of the family. Ironically, this competition seems to drain both of them of their ability to behave normally, making them seem weaker and more erratic rather than dominant. 

Hey! Missus. Don’t talk to me like that. Don’t talk to me in that tone a’ voice. There was a time when I had to take that tone a’ voice from pretty near everyone. Him, for one! Him and that half brain that just ran outa’ here. They don’t talk to me like that now. Not any more. Everything’s turned around now. Full circle. Isn’t that funny?

Related Characters: Bradley (speaker), Dodge, Tilden, Shelly
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

More than any other character, Bradley is obsessed with having power over his family members. We see this, for example, in his treatment of Tilden, and in his penchant for violently shaving Dodge's head while he is sleeping. In this passage we get a glimpse of what might have bred Bradley's violence; it seems that Bradley, as the weakest brother (due to his disability), was pushed around as a child, particularly by his brother and father. For Bradley, then, avenging the wrongs of the past is a primary motivation for his character. This is not unlike his other family members, though which past each one is avenging varies.

Through Bradley's character, Shepard is pointing the audience towards an understanding that cruelty begets cruelty, and that family dysfunction propagates itself through generations if issues are not resolved in the open and people are not held accountable for their behavior. Shepard seems to be saying (via Bradley) that a family is a structure that can easily descend into chaos once its members feel divided from one another by something like cruelty or a family secret.

Act 3 Quotes

Dodge: You forgot? Whose did you think this house was?

Shelly: Mine. I know it’s not mine but I had this feeling.

Dodge: What feeling?

Shelly: The feeling that nobody lives here but me. I mean everybody’s gone. You’re here, but it doesn’t seem like you’re supposed to be. Doesn’t seem like he’s supposed to be either. I don’t know what it is. It’s the house or something. Something familiar. Like I know my way around here. Did you ever get that feeling?

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Shelly (speaker), Bradley
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

It's in this passage that the readers get a sense that Shelly is being sucked into the family's logic. She is experiencing the same eerie inability to recognize what is around her, mistaking the family's house for her own. This passage, and the conversation that surrounds it, is another indictment of the American dream in which Shelly seems to have trouble reconciling the idyllic farmhouse with the haunted and bitter family that resides there. Her statement that the house feels familiar to her, though nobody seems to belong there except for her, can be read as a statement about the betrayal of the American Dream. She cannot imagine that a family this dysfunctional can be keeping up appearances, maintaining their classic American house, putting photographs and crosses up on the walls, while ripping each other apart behind closed doors. If the farmhouse represents the American Dream, then Shepard is telling us that it is hollow, that it is all surfaces, and that those surfaces conceal a dark interior.

Halie: Ansel’s getting a statue, Dodge. Did you know that? Not a plaque but a real live statue. A full bronze. Tip to toe. A basketball in one hand and a rifle in the other.

Bradley: He never played basketball!

Halie: You shut up, Bradley! You shut up about Ansel! Ansel played basketball better than anyone! And you know it! He was an All American! There’s no reason to take the glory away from others.

Related Characters: Halie (speaker), Bradley (speaker), Dodge, Ansel
Page Number: 97-98
Explanation and Analysis:

This moment showcases the grandiosity and absurdity of Halie's delusions. She has convinced the hypocritical Father Dewis to erect a statue of her son Ansel, whom she remembers (it seems dubiously) as a sports hero. While many questions have been raised as to the quality of Halie's memory, this exchange shows, perhaps most clearly, the extent to which she feels she needs to rewrite the past. Halie is not simply satisfied with her saccharine and manipulated narratives of the family's past—she also feels the need to also have others recognize her delusions by casting them in bronze. When Bradley attempts to fact-check Halie, she lashes out at him, refusing to admit to her own falsehoods and accusing Bradley instead of trying to "take the glory away" from Ansel. This shows how heavily the past weighs on these characters, as well as the cruelties they are willing to propagate in the present in order to protect a past that is traumatic and dubiously remembered.

Don’t come near me! Don’t anyone come near me. I don’t need any words from you. I’m not threatening anybody. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. You all say you don’t remember Vince, okay, maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s Vince that’s crazy. Maybe he’s made this whole family thing up. I don’t even care anymore. I was just coming along for the ride. I thought it’d be a nice gesture. Besides, I was curious. He made all of you sound familiar to me. Every one of you. For every name, I had an image. Every time he’d tell me a name, I’d see the person. In fact, each of you was so clear in my mind that I actually believed it was you. I really believed that when I walked through that door that the people who lived here would turn out to be the same people in my imagination. Real people. People with faces. But I don’t recognize any of you. Not one. Not even the slightest resemblance.

Related Characters: Shelly (speaker), Dodge, Halie, Bradley, Vince
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Shelly makes this speech at a point in the play when her behavior has dramatically shifted. While she came to the house as a playful and rather timid person, after spending a day with the family she has become assertive, aggressive, and even violent. In the scene leading up to this she has shouted, hurled a cup against the wall to attract attention, and kidnapped Bradley's false leg. Though her behavior has begun to mirror the chaos of the family, she is the one character that doesn't drift towards its illusions. Shelly knows that something is deeply wrong, and she begins to call them out on it here, which will lead to her extracting the full story of the buried child.

Shelly has been, throughout the play, an embodiment of disillusionment with the American Dream, and in this speech she explains to the family that they are nothing like the people she thought they would be. This is an extrapolation of the theme that American expectations about family life are unrealistic and even toxic. The theme of the American Dream is inextricable from the family's chaos; the family dynamic Shepard portrays is an example of the brew of disappointment and delusion (from Halie in particular) the myth of the American Dream can produce.

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Bradley Character Timeline in Buried Child

The timeline below shows where the character Bradley appears in Buried Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...is going out to meet the minister Father Dewis for lunch, and that their son Bradley will be coming over later to cut Dodge’s hair. Dodge adamantly refuses to let Bradley... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...because Tilden can no longer take care of himself. She also reveals that their son Bradley accidentally cut off his leg with a chainsaw, and so he can’t be depended on... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Halie goes on to admit that once Tilden and Bradley exposed themselves as failures, she placed her hopes in her youngest son, Ansel. Halie finally... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...upsetting Tilden, but Halie warns the men that they’d better clean up the mess before Bradley comes and sees it. A short argument ensues where Dodge insults Bradley, disowning him as... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...however, Dodge refuses to take it off—he wants to protect himself against a haircut from Bradley. (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
After a few moments, Bradley enters from the screen porch. His left leg is a wooden prosthetic, and he walks... (full context)
Act 2
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...toward Tilden, but he falls. Tilden continues to tell Shelly that not even Halie or Bradley know where the corpse of the baby is buried. Meanwhile Shelly moves to help Dodge,... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
The squeaking of a wooden leg is heard and Bradley enters. He sees Shelly and begins to interrogate her, asking who she is and what... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Bradley accuses Shelly of being with Tilden, mocking her by saying that women like men who... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
When Shelly offers to help Dodge, Bradley mocks her by saying that they should drown Dodge instead. Terrified, Shelly tells Bradley to... (full context)
Act 3
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
The next morning, the rain has stopped and sun shines into the living room. Bradley sleeps on the couch, his prosthetic leg detached nearby. Dodge sits against the television, visibly... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...feels different—that last night she was afraid, but she isn’t today. Dodge assures her that Bradley is nothing to be afraid of, and suggests that he’d be even more useless if... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...that the house feels familiar, like it’s empty except for her, and that Dodge and Bradley seem out of place. (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...covering the prosthetic leg with it. When Dodge protests, Halie whips the blanket off of Bradley, revealing his amputated leg, and throws the blanket on Dodge. Bradley wakes with a start... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...she claims that a statue of Ansel, holding a basketball and rifle, will be built. Bradley interjects that Ansel never played basketball, but Halie tells him to shut up. (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...Meanwhile Dodge begs for alcohol, Shelly yells at Halie to pay attention to her, and Bradley yells at Shelly for disrespecting his mother. (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
As Halie laments the state of the family, Bradley steals the blanket back from Dodge, causing a ruckus. In a rage, Shelly takes the... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
Bradley calls Shelly a prostitute, and the two begin to argue. Shelly takes the fur coat... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
When Halie threatens to call the police, Bradley implores her not to, and Shelly chides the family for keeping their gruesome secret. Bradley,... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
Despite protestations from Halie and Bradley, Dodge recounts how Halie had a baby, and apparently the child was Tilden’s. Tilden was... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
...testament. While Dodge delivers his speech, Vince keeps the prosthetic leg away from a whimpering Bradley, and goes to smell Father Dewis’ roses. (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
As Vince continues to taunt Bradley with the leg, Father Dewis comes down the stairs. Vince throws the leg out of... (full context)