Buried Child

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Vince Character Analysis

A young man in his early twenties, and Tilden’s son by an unknown mother. Vince and his girlfriend Shelly stop by the farm unannounced, as Vince is apparently looking to reconnect with Tilden. When his grandfather and father don’t recognize him, however, Vince becomes disturbed and abandons Shelly at the house for a night. At the end of the play Vince returns in a drunken stupor. Dodge leaves the house to him just before he dies, installing Vince (possibly) as the new patriarch of the family. Vince is a key example of the powerful and magnetic family bond, as he simply cannot stay away from his roots, even at the expense of his own happiness.

Vince Quotes in Buried Child

The Buried Child quotes below are all either spoken by Vince or refer to Vince. 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

Shelly: I don’t believe it!

Vince: How come?

Shelly: It’s like a Norman Rockwell cover or something.

Vince: What’s a’matter with that? It’s American.

Related Characters: Vince (speaker), Shelly (speaker)
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage, which occurs after the audience has soaked in the family chaos of the first act, is profoundly ironic. Shelly, the only character unfamiliar with the family, is introduced as having high hopes for Vince's family. The appearance of the little farmhouse evokes Norman Rockwell style Americana (Rockwell was a painter famous for idyllic scenes of mid-twentieth century American life), and Shelly gently mocks Vince for having a family that she assumes to be a sweet, classic American family. This passage is meant to directly juxtapose the imagery and narrative of the American Dream with the dystopian chaos the audience has just witnessed for the duration of the first act. Importantly, Vince, who broke ties with the family six years prior for unspecified reasons, doesn't protest Shelly's overly-sunny assumptions about his family. Whether this is out of forgetfulness or denial, the audience is unsure, but it is telling that his only protest is "What's a'matter with that? It's American." This seems to reveal that Shepard believes that this cruel and dysfunctional family, not the Norman Rockwell illusion, it what truly typifies the American family. 

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…I mean Vince has this thing about his family now. I guess it’s a new thing for him. I kind of find it hard to relate to. But he feels it’s important. You know. I mean he feels he wants to get to know you all again. After all this time…

Related Characters: Shelly (speaker), Dodge, Vince
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the play, Shepard gives us the sense that the gravitational pull of this family is inescapable. Bradley can't leave because he's injured, Tilden tried to leave and failed, Ansel died when he left, and Vince, who seems to have built a nice life outside of the family, is now feeling compelled to return. While Vince is never explicit about his initial motivations for returning (though he does speak later of trying to flee the house and then returning after a vision, in which he looks at himself and sees only his ancestors, showing him that his identity is inextricable from his family), it seems like he is beginning to think about creating a family of his own and wants his girlfriend to meet his family first. This shows the weight of family and the past on the characters in the play. Their lives are all stunted by their familial relationships and by the burden of past familial dramas that none of them can forget. Vince shows this most explicitly, as when he is introduced he seems like a functional, normal person, and by the end, after just a day with his family, his behavior becomes violent, manipulative, and erratic. 

Act 3 Quotes

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.

I was gonna run last night. I was gonna run and keep right on running. Clear to the Iowa border. I drove all night with the windows open. The old man’s two bucks flapping right on the seat beside me. It never stopped raining the whole time. Never stopped once. I could see myself in the windshield. My face. My eyes. I studied my face. Studied everything about it as though I was looking at another man. As though I could see his whole race behind him. Like a mummy’s face. I saw him dead and alive at the same time. In the same breath. In the windshield I watched him breathe as though he was frozen in time and every breath marked him. Marked him forever without him knowing. And then his face changed. His face became his father’s face. Same bones. Same eyes. Same nose. Same breath. And his father’s face changed to his grandfather’s face. And it went on like that. Changing. Clear on back to faces I’d never seen before but still recognized. Still recognized the bones underneath. The eyes. The mouth. The breath. I followed my family clear into Iowa. Every last one. Straight into the corn belt and further. Straight back as far as they’d take me. Then it all dissolved. Everything dissolved. Just like that.

Related Characters: Vince (speaker), Shelly
Page Number: 117-118
Explanation and Analysis:

In Act Two, Vince takes Dodge's money and goes to the store to get him whiskey, but fails to return until the next morning. This Act Three speech is then his explanation for why he ran away and why he returned. The audience understands that Vince fled the house after seeing the family chaos (which reminds us of Vince's six-year separation from the family that this visit has interrupted). It seemed like Vince felt that fleeing could save him from the fate of his family members, but he describes seeing his face in the windshield and having a vision in which his face morphed into the faces of his family members and ancestors. Even as he was running, his family was there with him in his own face, telling him he could not escape. This speech points to Vince's identity as being intertwined with the family, and it is somewhat fatalistic in its conclusion that Vince, as long as he is himself, will not be free of his family. It also points to Shepard's dark ideas about the chaotic power of family and the inability to escape past traumas.

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Vince Character Timeline in Buried Child

The timeline below shows where the character Vince 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
...and Dodge is asleep on the sofa, his scalp bleeding from the aggressively short haircut. Vince, Tilden’s twenty-two-year-old son, and Shelly, Vince’s nineteen-year-old girlfriend, appear on the screen porch. Shelly is... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
The young couple enters, and Vince goes upstairs to see if anyone is home. Shelly notices Dodge on the couch, and... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Vince comes downstairs, but Dodge is confused and does not recognize him. When Vince asks after... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
Dodge starts to comment on Shelly’s physical appearance and she grows more frightened, begging Vince to leave, but he forces her to stay. Dodge calls for Tilden, who then enters... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Tilden does not seem to recognize Vince, and when Shelly presses him, Tilden tells her that his son is dead and buried... (full context)
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
As Vince grows even more confused by the situation, Shelly offers to take the carrots from Tilden... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
While Vince makes various attempts to remind Dodge and Tilden of who he is, Dodge begs for... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Shelly does not want Vince to leave her alone in the house, and she asks to come along, but Vince... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Once Vince is gone, Shelly asks Tilden if he is really unable to remember Vince. Tilden says... (full context)
Act 3
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
...a bowl of soup. She offers it to Dodge, but he refuses it, preoccupied with Vince’s prolonged absence and his own craving for a bottle of alcohol. Dodge tries to get... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Shelly believes Vince will return (at least to retrieve the saxophone he’s left), and Dodge mocks her optimism.... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Shelly finally interjects that she came to the house with Vince, and Halie does not seem to immediately recognize that Vince is her grandson. As Shelly... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...the family to stay away from her. She says that she had come along with Vince and was excited to meet the family he had told her about, but that this... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
The noise comes from Vince, who is tearing the door off of the screen porch in a drunken stupor. Vince... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Vince’s drunken behavior continues on the porch, and when Halie asks Dewis for help, Dewis says... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
Vince enters the house through a screen porch window while Shelly goes out onto the screen... (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
Dodge declares that the house will go to Vince, the tools will go to Tilden, and the tractor and all the rest of his... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Shelly tells Vince that she will leave, but Vince wants to stay. Shelly asks Vince what happened to... (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... (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
Vince notices that Dodge has silently died. He covers Dodge in the blanket and places the... (full context)