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Daniela Restrepo

Ramsey Mathews
Modern Drama 3043
3 December 2016

Historical and Cultural Influences found in Sam Shepards Buried Child and Samuel Becketts
Waiting for Godot
Sam Shepards Buried Child is a bleak, tense play that encompasses the encounter
between a country family and their reunion with their son from the city, Vince. Themes explored
in the production include drug abuse, incest, murder, loss of identity, and infidelity. On the other
hand, Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot has underlying social implications and criticisms but
also employs humor and, arguably, silly behavior that demonstrate the relationship between two
men who live perpetually in a strange world: the situations and dialogue presented to the
audience are fairly nonsensical. This paper aims to discuss how different historical and cultural
aspects affect Buried Child and Waiting for Godot. Although both aspects are present in the two
plays, it may be argued that Becketts piece is influenced by the historical events of the Cold War
in Europe, while Shepards play incorporates cultural references that are more closely aligned
with the United States in the late 1970s.
Buried Child begins with a scene between Halie and Dodge, the heads of the household,
as they argue about trivial, yet underlyingly serious matters. The dialogue is outwardly focused
on simple things like the rain, horse races, and marital conversation but also presents the viewer
with one of the many problems that plagues the family, which would be alcoholism: You should
take a pill for that! I dont see why you just dont take a pill. Be done with it once and for all. Put
a stop to it (Shepard 4). The reader comes to find that the Dodge suffers from drug abuse, Halie

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is unhappy with her homelife and finds a lover in Father Dewis, and Tilden is altogether a social
outcast in his own house and previously had sex with his own mother to father a child of whom
he could not raise: Vince.
There were many aspects that are stereotypically considered with the seventies in the
United States: the influence of the music industry on clothes and attitudes (the hippie culture),
a shift in liberal mindsets, and an increase in popular culture. Wymans analysis on the play
states that:the cultural space and time of its own making. From Thanksgiving, to Norman
Rockwell, to Pee Wee Reese, iconic referents signal American identity and belonging for this
unnamed family, isolated in its own skewed sense of home (1). The post-war effects of the Cold
War were also to be noted as factors in daily life, especially in the outskirts of America. The
situation between the two countries created a tense, somber environment while it occurred but
also lingered and was felt by the public.
Waiting for Godot is unconventional as a whole and can be described as purely
nonsensical in some ways. At the same time, the viewer comes to know Vladimir and Estragon
for their relationship as it appeals to the questions of friendship, social circumstances, and moral
obligations. The characters are living in a world reminiscent of the Cold War, which is supported
by the dreary descriptions and stage construction usually used to create the production; it is
generally very minimalist in nature. The dialogue maintained between the two main characters
could be described as witless back-and-forth one liners: Estragon: What did we do yesterday?
Vladimir:What did we do yesterday? Estragon: Yes (Beckett 7).
However, the introduction of Pozzo and Lucky offer a different interaction that brings to
question the social concerns of the setting and time period of the play. In Dialogue with Godot:
Waiting and Other Thoughts argues that Beckett's experiences contemplate the drama within a

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range of political and philosophical contexts, including issues of torture and human rights,
Marxist and psychoanalytic thought, philosophical reflections on the eternal return, Aristotle's
Poetics, poststructuralism, and Hindu philosophy (Baggett 1). The play explores the ideas of
human morality, especially with how Pozzo treats Lucky, and questions the importance of reality
as the common person knows it: physical realms versus mental, time as a social construct, etc.
The political situation of France in the 50s pervaded the social circles as well as the
entertainment industry as it was present in many of the films, songs, and literary productions of
the time. Only a stony, indifferent earth survives; all labors are abandoned and left
unfinished, in a landscape scattered with decayed bones - the skull, the skull - the relics of
human habitation (Gordon 77). Becketts production provides social commentary on the
brutality and inhumane practices that come about from the war, also heavily demonstrated by
Luckys character. Vladimir and Estragon struggle for food and sustenance: Estragon:
(timidly). Please Sir . . .Pozzo: What is it, my good man? Estragon: Er . . . you've finished with
the . . . er . . . you don't need the . . . er . . . bones, Sir? Vladimir: (scandalized). You couldn't have
waited (Beckett 20). War brings many struggles and the lack of basic human needs is not
limited by this, with the overarching lack of meaning found by the main characters as well. This
can be defined as the struggle for the physical and the mental, a sense of being lost, which leads
them to question their very essence and, arguably, cements the idea that they do in fact exist in
the strange world that is the setting of the play.
Shepards and Becketts plays are considerably different, with settings varying from
farms to surreal landscapes, characters that share a distinctive past to those that cannot even
recall the events from a day passed, and plots that range from the sadistic death of a child to the
journey of two lost men. Regardless, there is a line of comparison to be seen as both Buried

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Child and Waiting for Godot can be classified as nihilistic, or lacking meaning. The characters
encounter situations that would incite a reaction or emotion than what actually happens. Halie,
Dodge, and Tilden lead lives of unhappiness but do nothing to offer a change. They instead hide
a shameful secret: As nihilistic as the play may seemusually staged in a deteriorated living
room with increasing degrees of dark surrealismthe action nevertheless exhibits an
invigorating energy, lodged in its powerful critique of U.S. culture and in the subterranean
familial bonds (Wyman 1).
In the same way, Vladimir and Estragon are also stuck in a purgatory of different sorts,
living their lives without any purpose but to find Godot, whom they do not truly know, they have
no reason for seeking, and cannot even remember where to meet. The characters question their
own relationship to each other and sanity through the entirety of the play, having no roots,
accomplishments, or goals to account for:They suffer from loneliness, attempt suicide, evoke
pessimism and remain unpredictable and dissatisfied till the end of the play. The reason behind
such attributes is the [prolonged] torment of waiting for an unidentified and unpredictable entity
Godot (Azam 1). Beckett is using Godot as a symbol for God, a mysterious, otherworldly figure
that guides the actions of the two men completely, which is a force also referenced in Shepards
As Buried Child is set on a farm, it is also important to note the influence religion had
and still maintains on rural communities. One of the characters, Father Dewis, is a prime
example of the corruption that plagued this family, as he openly has an affair with Halie, one of
his married followers: Father Dewis is dressed in traditional black suit, white clerical collar and
shirt. He is a very distinguished gray-haired man in his sixties. They are both slightly drunk and
feeling giddy (Shepard 89). The entire relationship is put in front of the family, as well as Vince

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and Shelly, who must see Dodge simply accept the fact that his wife and life are completely out
of his control. The prime minister is the clear reference to religion, yet Cadullo also argues that
the play makes countless references to Luke: The fine robe in which the Biblical prodigal is
wrapped is transposed by Shepard into a grimy blanket, stained with Dodge's spittle and
coughed-up blood. When Dodge dies, in productions of Buried Child, Vince either wraps himself
in this blanket or dons his grandfather's baseball cap as a symbol that he has taken over (1). The
dark thematic essence that Shepards play encompasses is felt through the entirety of the
production, as the plot only seems to get more gruesome with each scene, while Becketts
production at least offers some comedic relief and a more spiritual view on religion.
Time is challenged as a social construct in both of the plays as well. On one hand,
Waiting for Godot, while it does have a day and night, does not provide the audience with much
more in regards to the setting. The world is described in a way that makes it nonsensical, without
anything notable other than a tree. Vladimir and Estragon are of an older age but never recall
anything from their pasts and have no future to look towards. Beckett told the painful saga of
perpetual waiting and the saddening, disheartening edge of fancy dreaming of the end of this
waiting; but his play contains an untold suggestion that "no suggestion is there: the characters
are perpetually waiting and do not know why (Azam 1).
On the other hand, Buried Child, while alluding to the pasts of Tilden, Halie, and Dodge,
also shows that the characters are stuck in a stage of stasis. They repeat their day-to-day in a way
that could be viewed as a punishment for their sins. Vince and Shelly are the pause, a lapse in
time, that brings the characters classifiable purgatory come to a screeching halt, and then begin
again when, at the end of the play, Vince loses his sanity. The death, incest, and other familial
sins that plague the family keep them connected physically but emotionally distant: For

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Shepards characters, the family photos in the upstairs hall interest only the newcomers Shelly
and Vince but seem, to Dodge, a mockery of the present (Wyman 1).
In conclusion, Shepards Buried Child and Becketts Waiting for Godot offer insight into
the perpetuity of life. The characters, for differing reasons, interact in settings that are
reminiscent of the idea of purgatory, share religious references, and a nihilistic nature. Although
both pertain to the Cold War, Shepards piece is more fueled by the cultural factors of America in
the 70s, while Beckett has more of a historical, European basis.

Annotated Bibliography:
Azam, Azmi. "The concept of Nihilism and Torment in Samuel Barclay Beckett's Waiting for
Godot." Language In India, Feb. 2014, p. 22+. Academic OneFile,
%7CA361943029&sid=summon&asid=a3209c27fee4401df4516802ac065ad0. Accessed
3 Dec. 2016.
The article focuses on the nihilistic aspects of Waiting for Godot and refers to
themes of time, the ocean, imagery, and metaphors. Using quotations from the
play, Azam also makes references to philosophers and literary works. This source
was a good reference point for Nihilism as a whole.

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Baggett, J.S. "In dialogue with Godot: waiting and other thoughts." CHOICE: Current Reviews
for Academic Libraries, June 2014, p. 1806+. Academic OneFile,
21970&it=r&asid=8c42ed3ebea5a83ae9f9dca9114e2612. Accessed 3 Dec. 2016.
A brief summary on essays written on Waiting for Godot, Baggett references
Becketts European influence on the play and other works. This source aligns the
playwright with Marxist and French philosophy. The production of the play is
often reviewed with these factors in mind.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. 2006. Samuel Beckett On-Line Resources. Web.
2 Dec. 2016. <http://samuel-beckett.net/Waiting_for_Godot_Part1.html>.
This resource was the script used for the play, Waiting for Godot. It contained the
entirety of the production as was written by Samuel Beckett. Other resources for
his work were also found on the site.
Cadullo, Bert. "Literary allusions in Sam Shepard's Buried Child." Notes on Contemporary
Literature, vol. 39, no. 5, 2009. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?
%7CA232384012&it=r&asid=37222c87c296e0a7c04cb881cd20d6b3. Accessed 2 Dec.
The resource demonstrated the religious influences found in Buried Child.
Cadullo claims that Shepard is making references to the prodigal sons as well as
focusing on the sins committed by the characters. He argues that the misfortunes
plaguing the family are a result of this.
Gordon, Lois G. Reading Godot. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2002. eBook

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Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 3 Dec. 2016.
Gordons online book explores the connection between Waiting for Godot and
Freud, Cubism, and the contemporary features of the play. The source is an
extensive comparison that alludes to the nonsensical and time-centered nature
Beckett alludes to. The many chapters focus on reality as the characters perceive.
Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. Los Angeles: L.A. Theater Works, 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2016.
This resource contained the script for the play Buried Child. It contained the
entirety of the production by Sam Shepard. The document itself was found as a
document on Microsoft Word.

Wyman, S. M. Sam Shepards Buried Child: Unearthing the Family Drama. ANQ: A Quarterly
Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews. 2016. Vol. 29, No. 1, 40-42. 2016.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0895769X.2016.1180235.Web. 2 Dec. 2016.
Wymans article focuses on the problems shared by the family. There are
references to the effects of the Cold War, nihilism, and surreal aspects of the play.
The source serves as a postmodernist view of Shepards piece.

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