Buried Child

Tilden Character Analysis

A man in his forties, Tilden is the eldest son of Dodge and Halie. He was a former all-American football player, but is now “burned out,” “profoundly displaced,” and seems to be mentally ill in some way. He is living at the family home after running into some sort of mysterious trouble in New Mexico, where he had gone to seek a life away from his family. It’s also revealed that Tilden had sex with his mother Halie, and the child they had together was killed by Dodge (resulting in the “buried child”). Tilden’s promise as a young man and failure to achieve greatness is perhaps the most palpable example of the failure of the American Dream. Throughout the play he harvests vegetables from the fields that Dodge and Halie assume to be barren, and at the end of the play he unearths the corpse of the buried child. Tilden is also Vince’s father, though he doesn’t seem to recognize his son.

Tilden Quotes in Buried Child

The Buried Child quotes below are all either spoken by Tilden or refer to Tilden. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Tilden: I never had any trouble.

Dodge: Tilden, your mother told me all about it.

Tilden: What’d she tell you?

Dodge: I don’t have to repeat what she told me! She told me all about it!

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Tilden (speaker), Halie
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Tilden: I didn’t do anything.

Dodge: Then why should I have worried about you.

Tilden: Because I was by myself.

Dodge: By myself?

Tilden: Yeah. I was by myself more than I’ve ever been before.

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Tilden (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proid

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Dodge: You’re a grown man. You shouldn’t be needing your parents at your age. It’s unnatural. Couldn’t make a living down there? Couldn’t find some way to make a living? Support yourself? What’d’ya come back here for? You expect us to feed you forever?

Tilden: I didn’t know where else to go.

Dodge: I never went back to my parents. Never. Never even had the urge. I was always independent. Always found a way.

Tilden: I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t figure anything out.

Dodge: There’s nothing to figure out. You just forge ahead. What’s there to figure out?

Related Characters: Dodge (speaker), Tilden (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupida

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Tilden Character Timeline in Buried Child

The timeline below shows where the character Tilden 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
...cut Dodge’s hair. Dodge adamantly refuses to let Bradley cut his hair. Halie says that Tilden, their eldest son, is in the kitchen, and suggests that he might protect Dodge—an idea... (full context)
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
Tilden, a “profoundly burned out and displaced” man in his forties, enters, wet with rain and... (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 commands Tilden to return the corn to where he found out, but instead Tilden dumps the ears... (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
Tilden returns with a chair and pail and begins to husk the corn. Dodge asks Tilden... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
From upstairs, Halie calls out to Dodge that Tilden should not be drinking anything. Unaware that Tilden can hear, Halie enters into a long... (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.... (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
...reverie, and angrily notices the husks on the floor of the living room. Halie asks Tilden where the corn has come from, claiming that she can see fields from her bedroom... (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 reprimands Halie for upsetting Tilden, but Halie warns the men that they’d better clean up the mess before Bradley comes... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Tilden scolds Dodge for his comments about the back yard, but Dodge refuses to apologize or... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
As Tilden begins to head out back again—against Halie and Dodge’s wishes—Dodge has another violent coughing fit.... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
Dodge falls asleep. Tilden steals Dodge’s hidden whiskey, and then covers the sleeping Dodge with the corn husks and... (full context)
Act 2
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...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 extremely... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...Dodge responds by saying that she won’t be back for days. Dodge also reveals that Tilden is here at the farmhouse, rather than in New Mexico like Vince thought. Spooked, Shelly... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...more frightened, begging Vince to leave, but he forces her to stay. Dodge calls for Tilden, who then enters with an armful of carrots, apparently from out back. (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... (full context)
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
Rituals Theme Icon
...Vince grows even more confused by the situation, Shelly offers to take the carrots from Tilden and begins to help peel them. Dodge asks Vince to get him a new bottle... (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 alcohol and lasciviously comments on Shelly’s beauty. 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 he finds something familiar about... (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
Tilden admires Shelly’s rabbit-fur coat, and Shelly allows him to feel it. She gives it to... (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
An agitated Dodge tries to get Tilden to stop telling Shelly this story, and he tries to stand and walk toward Tilden,... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...who she is and what she’s doing in the house. Bradley takes the coat from Tilden and tells Shelly that she should take Tilden away with her. He says that Tilden... (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 are “important.” Intimidated, Tilden bolts off. (full context)
Act 3
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...to defend himself and claims disinterest in the photos, until Shelly asks Dodge outright if Tilden was telling the truth about the killing of the baby. Suddenly Dodge’s demeanor changes, and... (full context)
Family and Its Demise Theme Icon
Failure and the American Dream Theme Icon
The Presence of the Past Theme Icon
...is her grandson. As Shelly continues to jog her memory, Halie suddenly becomes worried about Tilden’s whereabouts. Halie yells at Dodge for allowing Tilden to leave. Meanwhile Dodge begs for alcohol,... (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
...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 ashamed of it, and so he... (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 belongings will be burned in the... (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
From upstairs, we hear Halie calling out for Dodge, telling him that Tilden was right, and that the field is full of vegetables. Tilden enters, covered in mud,... (full context)