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Intergrating the Psyche of the American Male: Conflicting Ideals of Manhood in Sam Shepard's True West


True West, the third in Sam Shepard's series of family plays, focuses on two brothers, one a screenwriter and the other a wanderer and thief, who confront each other for the first time in five years. Initially diametrically opposed in appearance and behavior, the brothers shift roles and personalities as the play progresses. In an essay on Shepard's plays, Ross Wetzsteon remarks that the brothers are doing battle over the “turf of the soul” and that “the shifts of identity, the shifts of power between them, so confusing to the narrative mind, make perfect sense when regarded not as conflicts between characters but as contradictions of the spirit" (259). On this spiritual or symbolic level, the play examines the two contradictory American ideals of masculinity which the two brothers initially represent. Through the brothers' shifts of identity and power, True West reveals the limitations of these ideals and argues for the reconciliation of their seemingly incompatible, frequently antagonistic values within the psyche of the twentieth-century American male.

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