Buried Child

Buried Child Summary

The first act of the play opens in 1978 with the aging patriarch, Dodge, sitting in an armchair in front of his TV in Illinois. He takes a drink when no one is watching and then proceeds to hide his whiskey from his wife. When Dodge has a coughing fit, Halie shouts at him from upstairs to get his medicine. She then tells her husband that she is about go out to meet Father Dewis for lunch and that their son, Bradley, will come over to cut Dodge’s hair.

Tilden, Dodge and Halie's eldest son, comes in wet from the rain, with corn in his arms. Tilden insists that he picked it from the backyard despite the fact that Halie and Dodge insist that nothing has grown out there for years. As Tilden starts to husk the corn, Dodge asks him about the time he spent in New Mexico. Halie reveals that their oldest son, Bradley, cut one of his legs off while chopping wood and that they have to rely on Tilden to take care of them. However, Tilden seems unable to take care of himself, and Halie is concerned about him. Halie comes downstairs while talking about her favorite son, Ansel, who died. Halie blames her daughter-in-law, an Italian Catholic, for her son’s death.

After various arguments, Halie leaves the house, telling her husband and son that she will return later. Dodge claims that his only son is buried in the back, but Halie leaves without reacting to his comment. When Tilden wants to leave as well, Dodge stops him, saying that he wants someone by his side. Tilden agrees to stay, while his father has a coughing fit. After Dodge falls asleep, Tilden steals his bottle of whiskey and leaves the house. Bradley comes in and shaves Dodge's head with a pair of electric clippers while he is still sleeping.

In Act 2, Vince, Tilden's son, returns home with his girlfriend, Shelly, after six away years. When Dodge woke up, Shelly and Vince try to explain why they are in his house, but he does not recognize them. Shelly is spooked, but Vince refuses to leave. Vince tells Dodge that he and Shelly are going to visit Tilden in New Mexico, but Dodge tells him that Tilden is there. Tilden comes in with an armful of carrots, but doesn’t recognize his own son and claims that his real son is buried in the backyard. Shelly offers to help Tilden with the carrots, to ease her mind. Meanwhile, Dodge asks for alcohol and Vince agrees to go get some. Shelly wants to come with him, but he refuses, so she remains home with Tilden and Dodge.

Tilden tells Shelly that there was a baby in the family, but Dodge drowned it and buried it somewhere, but no one knows where. As Tilden exits, Bradley comes in and puts some of his fingers in Shelly's mouth.

The third act takes place the next morning. Shelly wakes up and cooks some broth for Dodge, but he refuses to eat. Shelly tells Dodge that she slept in Halie’s room and noticed a family photo in which Halie was holding a baby. Halie returns home with Father Dewis, drunk. Dodge asks Shelly to protect him and hides under his coat. In front of everyone, Dodge tells the story of the buried child: Halie had a baby with Tilden and he drowned it. Vince returns home drunk and begins smashing empty liquor bottles everywhere, telling Shelly that he planned to run away but decided against it. Not being able to take it anymore, Shelly decides to leave him.

Dodge starts talking about his last will and testament, leaving the house to Vince. Shortly afterwards, he dies. Tilden comes in from outside, caring the corpse of the buried child, while also telling them that the rain brought vegetables in their back garden.