Austin and Lee's Psychological Profile (True West by Sam Shepard Book Review)


There are several moments in the play “True West” that demonstrates the two sides of the human psyche that Austin and Lee represent. According to Sam Shepard, the writer of the play, Lee and Austin ‘are each other...I’ve just divided one person in two’. Austin and Lee’s characters represent a split that the author, Sam Shepard feels within himself and also within the human psyche in general. Austin, the younger brother in his early thirties, is strongly devoted to his work. He believes in the integrity of his work but also wants to impress Hollywood producers. And on the other hand we have Lee. Lee is the older brother in his early forties, he is aggressive, brutal, controlling, and often physically violent. When reading this play, we can conclude that Austin and Lee are complete polar opposites however, they both wish to be each other. In order to fully understand the two sides of the human psyche that Austin and Lee represent, we will be looking at Lee and Austin’s psychological profile, the interaction and conflict that develops between the two brothers.

The first paragraph will look at Lee’s psychological profile. Lee is a very interesting and unique character in this play. He is aggressive, brutal, controlling, and often physically violent. However, he is not always violent to people for example, the morning after when Lee attempted to write the script, Austin said: “You don’t have to take it out on my typewriter ya’ know. It’s not the machine’s fault that you can’t write. It’s a sin to do that to a good machine.” (scene 8, 1112) Further in the play, we discover that Lee is also vulnerable and unhappy, expressing both contempt, desire and jealousy for Austin's life. This is mainly demonstrated when Austin met with the producer Saul Kimmer to speak about Austin’s script. When Lee arrives back home, and notices the producer, he starts to have a conversation with Mr. Kimmer and proceeds to speak about an idea of a script to the producer:

LEE: I got a Western that’d knock yer lights out.

SAUL: Oh really?

LEE: Yeah. Contemporary Western. Based on a true story. ‘Course I’m not a writer like my brother here. I’m not a man of the pen. (scene 3, 410-413)

In other words, Lee tries to take the spotlight away from his brother Austin. Lee is an outlaw who makes a living by stealing and gambling which are demonstrated in the following quotes: “[LEE enters abruptly into the kitchen carrying a stolen television set…]” (scene 3, 324)  This quote occurs when Austin is meeting with Saul to discuss the screenplay and Lee enters and “steals” the spotlight from his younger brother. “Amazed? You lost a bet! You gambled with my material!” (scene 6, 800) said Austin to Saul. This goes to show how far Lee would go to get what he wants and in this case, he gambles. Lee resents the assumption he lacks intelligence and education therefore, when he has an opportunity to prove himself as a scriptwriter, he goes to a certain extent. These elements help us to understand that Lee is living a life trying to be like Austin which is one of his main psychological states.

The second paragraph will look at Austin’s psychological profile. Unlike his older brother Lee, Austin is a “good” person. He plays within the rules and he is dedicated to his work. However, throughout the play, Austin’s persona changes drastically. The first change occurred when Austin found out that the producer, Saul dropped his script, his sense of self dissolves and his ordered world is shattered: “What? You mean mine? He’s going to drop mine and do yours instead?” (scene 5, 716) said Austin. At this moment, Austin developed hate and anger towards Saul and Lee which does not fit with his personality, but Lee’s personality. At this point, Austin has started to become like his older brother. Further in the play, Austin changes more to become like Lee. He then developed Lee’s drinking habit and even started to steal from the neighbourhood. “This isn’t champagne anymore. We went through the champagne a long time ago. This is serious stuff. The days of champagne are long gone.” (scene7, 930) said Austin to Lee when he found out that his script was removed from the plan. A few moments later, Lee mocked his brother by telling him that he could not steal a toaster. This got to Austin, and he wanted to prove Lee wrong: “There is gonna be a general lack of toast in the neighbourhood this morning.” (scene 8, 1092) said Austin while polishing the toasters he stole overnight. It seems like he does not feel a bit of remorse for what he did which shows that his persona has changed to the one of Lee. These changes help to understand what is going on in Austin’s mind. 

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