Buried Child

Buried Child Literary Elements


Tragedy, Drama, Family



Setting and Context

1978, Illinois.

Narrator and Point of View


Tone and Mood

Tragic, melancholic, absurd, confusing, mysterious

Protagonist and Antagonist

Does not have a typical protagonist or antagonist.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is that Tilden and Dodge have unsettled conflict about the child that Dodge killed and buried in the backyard. Additionally, Vince is trying to connect with his family and get them to acknowledge that he is related to them.


The play reaches its climax when Tilden comes inside the house carrying the body of his dead child.


The buried child is foreshadowed by many indirect references to the child and to death throughout the beginning of the play.


At various moments, different characters understate their mental and emotional states, taken in by the spell of the strange theatrical logic of the family and the house. Shelly, for instance, vacillates between being greatly disturbed by the family and feeling completely at home, understating her discomfort.


Allusions to American agriculture, Christianity.


Vince's monologue about driving weaves some evocative imagery, as well as Dodge's story of the buried child.


Many of the characters behave paradoxically, sometimes remembering things, sometimes forgetting, sometimes being kind and sometimes being hateful, sometimes feeling uncomfortable and other times feeling completely at home.


An indirect parallel is drawn between Vince and the buried child. Why does no one remember Vince? Is he a figment? Is he long dead? Also, who is Ansel? There are all kinds of ghosts within the play that are presented in parallel with one another.


Meaning is attributed to the rain and the sun.

Use of Dramatic Devices

A number of monologues. While the action of the play is realistic and takes place in real time, the character often have memory lapses or confusions that make the play more theatrical and less rooted in realism.