True West is an intense dramatization of the relationship between two brothers:Lee and Austin. As each scene progresses, the brothers’ rivalry and animositytowards each other become more and more apparent, building towards a singleemotionally involving climax. Throughout the play, the characters undergo subtlechanges as each brother subconsciously attempts to absorb the part of the otherbrother’s life which he feels might complete him. This role reversal is thepivotal instrument in which Sam Sheppard shows the intensity of sibling rivalry.
The play starts en medea res. Lee and Austin have not talked to each other insome time, and Lee obviously resents Austin. In the conversation Lee almost hassomething to prove to Austin. A few sentences into the conversation, Austin’sestimation of Lee and Lee’s hostile resentment of this view become apparent:AUSTIN: I’ve got too much to deal with here to be worrying about? LEE: Yernot gonna’ have to worry about me! I’ve been doin’ all right without you. I haven’t been anywhere near you for five years! Now isn’t that true? (P.Order now
8)Austin clearly thinks of his brother as a responsibility, and does not think ofhim as an equal, much less as someone who can take care of himself. For Lee onthe other hand, being looked down upon by his younger brother is insulting. Lee’s reaction to his brother is immediately defensive. When the subject ofLee staying at their mother’s house comes up, Lee snaps at Austin: AUSTIN:Well, you can stay here as long as I’m here. LEE: I don’t need yourpermission do I? And later, LEE: She might’ve just as easily asked me to takecare of her place as you.
AUSTIN: That’s right. LEE: I mean I know how towater plants. (P. 7) Throughout this scene, Lee’s hostile attitude towardsAustin constantly disrupts the flow of the conversation, and is a continualreminder that these two men have an unresolved internal conflict. Both brothersrealize that they each come from two different walks of life, but it is Austinwho chooses to believe that his way of life is superior. While Austin has, asLee puts it, “.
. . the wife and kiddies. . .
the house, the car, the wholeslam. . . (p. 9),” we never discover if Lee owns anything at all, or is just atransient burglar. Lee has much to be jealous of in Austin.
Austin, however, hasvery little to be jealous of in Lee. Lee is a thief who hasn’t ever settleddown into anything. In this first scene, the overall emphasis of power betweenthe brothers is material possessions, and Austin definitely has the power overLee. The first scene defines each character and what they are.
Austin is anambitious man who wants very badly to finish his movie script and sell it. Hesays to his scripting agent, “I’ve got everything riding on this, Saul. Youknow that. It’s my only shot. If this falls through.
. . (P. 35).
” At the sametime he is very patient and timid with his brother. Lee is very competitive,emotionally explosive and content to scrape by with the minimum of money. Hedoes not feel that he is socially fit to live in a social community, as he says:LEE: This is the last time I try to live with people! (P. 46) And later, LEE:Hey, do you actually think I chose to live out in the middle a’ nowhere? Do ya’?Ya’ think its some kinda’ philosophical decision I took or somethin’?I’m livin’ out there ?cause I can’t make it here! (P. 49) The firstmajor change in one of the brothers is in Austin.
After Austin’s agent offersLee a deal which Austin was hoping to get, Austin almost refuses to believe it. When Lee needs Austin to be his writer, Austin becomes adamantly against Lee,and furiously tries to talk his agent out of the deal with Lee. Throughout theplay until this point, Lee’s dialogue has been considerably lengthier thanAustin’s has. In this scene, Austin’s dialogue is explosive in its lengthwhen compared with Lee’s sparse one liners.
This change marks the end of theway things used to be for them. Austin’s reaction to his brother is not thetimid, patient person who we met in the first scene. In contrast, while Lee isbeing a little more ambitious and social than we have been led to believe henormally is, the major change is that it is Lee who is calm and timid whenAustin becomes infuriated: AUSTIN: Yeah, well you can afford to give me apercentage on the outline then. And you better get the genius here an agentbefore he gets burned. LEE: Saul’s gonna’ be my agent.
Isn’t that right,Saul? (P. 34) While these behavioral changes don’t necessarily mean that thebrothers’ roles have switched, in scene seven, role changing is blatantlyobvious. In a reversal of the play’s opening scene, Lee is trying to write thedraft of his story, and Austin is the constant disruption: LEE: (slams fist ontable) Hey! Knock it off will ya’! I’m tryin’ to concentrate here. AUSTIN:(laughs) You’re tryin’ to concentrate? LEE: Shut up will ya’! And later,LEE: I’m a screenwriter now! I’m legitimate. (P.
37) Lee’s cry that he is”legitimate” shows that he has been more concerned with his illegitimatepast than he has let on. He wants to be part of society, and he thinks he hasfinally found an outlet for that part of himself in his brother’s life. Whenhe tells his brother that he is “legitimate” and a “screenwriter,” he isreally trying to convince himself. For Austin, his Lee has been more successfulin Austin’s business than Austin has, and in just a few days. His rivalry isdetermined to fight back, “You really don’t think I could steal a crumbytoaster? How much you wanna’ bet I can’t steal a toaster! (P.
38)”Austin’s assimilation of Lee is apparent in other ways as well, as he beginsto sound more and more like his brother: AUSTIN: Don’t worry about me. I’mnot the one to worry about. (P. 38) And later, AUSTIN: I can take care a’myself.
Don’t worry about me. (P. 39) In foreshadowing, Austin later says,”Yeah, well we all sound alike when we’re sloshed. We just sorta’ echoeach other. (P. 39)” Each of the brothers has taken on characteristics of theother brother, and they each learn something about themselves in the process.
With the culmination of the tense last scene, Lee realizes that he is not meantto live like Austin, and he knows that Austin wouldn’t be able to live withhim on the desert. When Austin snaps, and begins choking Lee, he makes an almostcomplete role reversal. His own greed and disregard for others leads him toattack his own brother, whom he has subconsciously used for a role modelthroughout the play. Lee on the other hand becomes more focused and calm as theplay proceeds. With the unresolved ending, the play leaves the resolution of thetwo brothers up to speculation. While neither of the brothers knows what willhappen to themselves, their mother says it best, “I see.
Well, you’ll allwind up on the same desert sooner or later. (P53)” Neither of the brothers hasacted in a particularly normal fashion throughout the play, and it is only whentheir mother comes home that they realize they have trashed the house. Theexchange of culture between the two brothers not only allows each brother toglimpse into the others’ life, but also creates a chaotic environment in whichthe brothers become overcome with sibling rivalry.