Buried Child


Sam Shepard

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Religion Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Buried Child, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Religion Theme Icon

Shepard only portrays religion in a negative light in the play, but the kind of religiosity the characters illustrate is more about hypocrisy and self-righteousness than genuine belief. This kind of shallow religion is then presented as an entirely inadequate coping strategy for dealing with the grief and shame that befalls the family. During the last day of his life, Dodge slowly begins to give up on suppressing the guilt he feels for his sinful past, but Halie, who will live on, clings tightly to the idea of religion, even if her behavior does not demonstrate its values. From the outset, Halie concerns herself with what is and isn’t “Christian” behavior (as a method of judging others), but at the same time she subtly references her own incestuous and adulterous behavior, and she obviously states her hatred of Catholics and the contempt she feels for her husband.

When we finally come face to face with Father Dewis, Halie’s religious mentor and the play’s embodiment of religion, we find an ineffectual and sinful man. He drinks and carries on an affair with Halie in front of her dying husband. After Dodge admits to the murder of the baby, Dewis joins Halie upstairs in her bedroom, but quickly returns downstairs and says that he “can’t help her.” In addition to demonstrating religion’s seductive power over the vulnerable, this moment encapsulates Shepard’s take on religion. When we pervert and manipulate the institution of religion for our own purposes, it may be useful for justifying our actions and soothing our consciences, but it is wholly inadequate to help in dealing with trauma.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Religion ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Religion appears in each act of Buried Child. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
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Religion Quotes in Buried Child

Below you will find the important quotes in Buried Child related to the theme of Religion.
Act 1 Quotes

“You should take a pill for that! I don’t see why you just don’t take a pill! Be done with it once and for all. Put a stop to it. It’s not Christian but it works. It’s not necessarily Christian, that is. We don’t know. There’s some things the ministers can’t even answer. I, personally, can’t see anything wrong with it. Pain is pain. Pure and simple. Suffering is a different matter. That’s entirely different. A pill seems as good an answer as any.”

Related Characters: Halie (speaker), Dodge
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

He was blind with love. Blind. I knew. Everyone knew. The wedding was more like a funeral. You remember? All those Italians. All that horrible black, greasy hair. The rancid smell of cheap cologne. I think even the priest was wearing a pistol. When he gave her the ring I knew he was a dead man. I knew it. As soon as he gave her the ring. But then it was the honeymoon that killed him. The honeymoon. I knew he'd never come back from the honeymoon.

Related Characters: Halie (speaker), Ansel
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

Well, prayerfully, God only hears what he wants to. That’s just between you and me of course. In our heart of hearts we know we’re every bit as wicked as the Catholics.

Related Characters: Father Dewis (speaker), Halie
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

We can’t not believe in something. We can’t stop believing. We just end up dying if we stop. Just end up dead.

Related Characters: Halie (speaker), Dodge, Father Dewis
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Good hard rain. Takes everything straight down deep to the roots. The rest takes care of itself. You can’t force a thing to grow. You can’t interfere with it. It’s all hidden. It’s all unseen. You just gotta wait til it pops up out of the ground. Tiny little shoot. Tiny little white shoot. All hairy and fragile. Strong though. Strong enough to break the earth even. It’s a miracle, Dodge. I’ve never seen a crop like this in my whole life. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the sun.

Related Characters: Halie (speaker), Dodge
Related Symbols: Rain, Vegetables
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis: