Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Rita Jacobs

Committee Member

Daniel Bronson

Committee Member

Tom Benediktsson


Sam Shepard is a playwright who provides extensive stage directions for his actors. Although many literary critics disapprove of his control of the stage space through his stage directions, his specific notes on set design, costume, props and gestures offer a commentary on the characters and their actions in his dramas.

Metaphorically, Shepard’s clever positioning of his visual images in Curse o f the Starving Class, Buried Child, and True West suggests that his characters find it necessary to damage each other’s securities, to destroy their own haunted pasts, or to disrupt the family experience and the myth of the perfect American family. The destruction done to the domestic sets and the props on stage is rooted in the Gothic tradition. Since the family home represents the family living inside, the chaos and the damage on stage are symbols of the decline of the families.

The following pages will examine Shepard’s command of the visual images seen on the stage within the family trilogy. The destruction committed on stage is often unsettling because Shepard has his characters damage domestic objects; items that normally represent family unity and safety are thrown, destroyed, burned or pissed on in order for the audience to recognize the breakdown of communication that is so common in Shepard’s dramas. The damage done to the domestic items produces chaos on the stage and acts as a representation of the relationships among Shepard’s characters, a technique that offers a visually stimulating experience for his audiences.

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