Buried Child

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The Baby / Buried Child Character Analysis

Sometime before Ansel’s death, but before Vince’s birth, Halie and Tilden had a child together. Dodge murdered this baby and buried it somewhere unknown, and the family has kept the secret for decades. When Dodge finally admits to the murder at the end of the play, Tilden unearths the corpse of the child from the backyard and brings it into the house.

The Baby / Buried Child Quotes in Buried Child

The Buried Child quotes below are all either spoken by The Baby / Buried Child or refer to The Baby / Buried Child . 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 2 Quotes

We had a baby. He did. Dodge did. Could pick it up with one hand. Put it in the other. Little baby. Dodge killed it… Dodge drowned it… Never told Halie. Never told anybody. Just drowned it… Nobody could find it. Just disappeared. Cops looked for it. Neighbors. Nobody could find it… Finally everybody just gave up. Just stopped looking. Everybody had a different answer. Kidnap. Murder. Accident. Some kind of accident.

Related Characters: Tilden (speaker), Dodge, Halie, Shelly, The Baby / Buried Child
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the first reference to the buried child that is an outright admission rather than a veiled comment intended to harm or silence another family member. Throughout the play, Tilden seems to have a need to exhume the secret (and the literal corpse) more than any other character, so it makes sense that he would be the one to first confess the secret to Shelly. 

The opening of this passage shows how the family secret has warped everyone's sense of the past and of truth. Tilden, who is the biological father of the child, seems confused about to whom the child belongs. Tilden is capable of identifying that an awful thing has occurred, and he provides some specifics, but he balks at admitting that his own incestuous involvement with Halie produced the child. Tilden also, in his claim that nobody could find the body and nobody had an answer for why it was gone, speaks to the swirl of misinformation and trauma surrounding the family having kept this a secret for so long. What is missing for them is both a literal body and also a truth; without both of these, the family cannot move on.

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Act 3 Quotes

…Halie had this kid. This baby boy. She had it. I let her have it on her own. All the other boys I had had the best doctors, best nurses, everything. This one I let her have by herself. This one hurt real bad. Almost killed her, but she had it anyway. It lived, see. It lived. It wanted to grow up in this family. It wanted to be just like us. It wanted to be part of us. It wanted to pretend that I was its father. She wanted me to believe in it. Even when everyone around us knew. Everyone. All our boys knew. Tilden knew… I killed it. I drowned it. Just like the runt of a litter. Just drowned it.

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Halie, Tilden, Shelly, The Baby / Buried Child
Page Number: 109-110
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the climax of the play, in which Dodge tells Shelly the story of the buried child. Dodge seems to do this in part because Shelly has goaded him into it, and in part because he wants to shock Shelly. He seems to relish it when she tells him she isn't sure if she wants to know, and the thought of scaring her seems to push him ultimately into revealing the secret. In Dodge's recounting he does not omit his own cruelty--he dwells on it, in fact, talking about how he allowed Halie to almost die having her incestuous child without doctors. This shows the ways in which Dodge has partly brought about the family's downfall by being so vengeful and possessive. He goes on to blame Tilden's love for the child for Dodge's decision to kill it, stating that "it made everything we'd accomplished look like nothing." This is another instance of Shepard revealing the toxicity of the American Dream, in which the ideal of the perfect nuclear family of successful parents and children leads to more dysfunction than if people had honest expectations about family life. Dodge implies that he killed the child because it was the one thing he felt didn't fit in with their perfect life (which seems to be an idealized memory in itself). Ironically, this murder, more than anything else (like the birth of the child itself), is what actually throws the family into chaos.

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The Baby / Buried Child Character Timeline in Buried Child

The timeline below shows where the character The Baby / Buried Child appears in Buried Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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
...any longer. When Shelly presses him for more information, Tilden reveals that there was a baby in the family, but Dodge drowned it, and no one knows where he put it. (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
...to tell Shelly that not even Halie or Bradley know where the corpse of the baby is buried. Meanwhile Shelly moves to help Dodge, but Tilden forcibly keeps her seated. Tilden... (full context)
Act 3
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...whole family standing on a farm full of corn and wheat, with Halie holding a baby. Shelly says that Halie looks lost in the photo. (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...Shelly asks Dodge outright if Tilden was telling the truth about the killing of the baby. Suddenly Dodge’s demeanor changes, and Dodge asks Shelly where Tilden is. She tells Dodge that... (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 close with the baby, but Dodge was... (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
Religion Theme Icon
...is full of vegetables. Tilden enters, covered in mud, holding the rotted corpse of a small child . He ascends the stairs towards Halie as we hear her considering aloud the rain... (full context)