Dodge is the patriarch of the family, an old man in his seventies, living in a rural area of Illinois in a rundown house. The play presents Dodge’s last days and his struggles with alcoholism and some kind of unknown illness that often leads him to have coughing fits. Dodge is unable to take care of himself and has lost his power and influence in the family, spending his days on the sofa in front of his TV, drinking whiskey (against doctor's orders) and refusing to take his medicine. Dodge has a tense and contentious relationship with his wife Halie, constantly bickering about events from the past. Dodge feels threatened by one of his sons, Bradley, who behaves violently towards him and who expresses his desire to see his father dead. Dodge confesses to killing a baby, the product of Halie’s incestuous relationship with their son, Tilden. At the end of the play, Dodge leaves his house to his grandson, Vince, and dies.
Halie is Dodge’s wife, a woman in her sixties who is distracted and physically absent for most of the play. At the beginning of the first act, she can only be heard, yelling down from the second floor of the house. She lives an almost completely separate life from Dodge, even though they live inside the same house. Halie talks frequently about her dead son, Ansel, and she lets it be understood that she always favored Ansel over her other children. Halie has numerous extramarital relationships, and it is implied that she sleeps with Father Dewis, a man of the church she later brings home. Towards the end of the play, it is revealed that Halie had an incestuous relationship with Tilden and had a child as a result. Halie ends the play, speaking from the upstairs about the inevitability of growth and regeneration, as she stares out at her suddenly and inexplicably fertile backyard.
Tilden is the oldest child of the family, a forty-something-year-old man still living with his parents. Halie brags about Tilden, saying that he used to be an All-American football star, even though he is now seemingly burnt out, lifeless, and still depends on his parents. Tilden lived in New Mexico for a while, hoping to start a new life for himself, but something went wrong that led him to move home. Tilden had two children, a boy named Vince, and a child with his mother. Tilden seems rather brain-dead at various moments of the play, unable to recognize his son or recollect much of the past with much clarity, save for the traumatic saga of the "buried child."
Vince is Tilden’s son, who returns home after six years with his girlfriend. Vince was on his way to visit Tilden in New Mexico and is surprised to find that his father is living with his grandparents in Illinois. He plays the saxophone and wears cool clothes, the epitome of a confident youth. However, Vince is disturbed by the fact that no one recognizes him, and leaves the house in a panic to go drink and think through the situation. He returns the next day, drunk, pulled back into the family unit, at which point he inherits Dodge's house. Vince is haunted by the notion of his patrilineal ancestors, his sense that he must continue what his forefathers started.
Shelly is Vince’s girlfriend who comes with him to his grandparents’ house. At first, she is very amused by his family home and its quaintness, as she is a fast-track girl from Los Angeles, complete with high heels and a rabbit fur coat. When she enters the house, she is scared of it, but soon becomes absorbed by its strange familiarity. She peels carrots, cooks broth, and even sleeps in a bedroom overnight, pulled in by the things that repelled her at first. Eventually, it all becomes too much for her to bear, and she leaves Vince for good.
Father Dewis is a religious leader who is well-respected in the community, but is having an affair with Halie. When he is presented with the tragedy of Halie's family, he has no spiritual insights or ability to provide comfort. He is an archetypal religious hypocrite, a man who purports to have spiritual knowledge, but is actually quite selfish.
Bradley is Dodge and Haile’s middle child, a bully who likes to see the others suffer. He is also a dolt, having chainsawed off his own leg in a logging accident. Bradley is presented as yet another stunted child, controlling but completely dependent on others for care, a man-baby who externalizes all of his feelings of disempowerment to control and dominate others.
Buried Child Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Buried Child is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.