Buried Child

Buried Child Summary and Analysis of Part 5


Halie asks Father Dewis what they ought to do about Shelly, and as Shelly stands, Halie viciously screams at her to stay seated. She then goes into Dewis' pockets looking for a bottle of whiskey, and comments on how wonderful the yellow roses smell. She suggests that they will have to put roses at Ansel's statue. When she tells Dodge and Bradley that Ansel is getting a bronze statue built in his honor in which he is holding a basketball in one hand and a rifle in the other, Bradley protests that Ansel never played basketball.

Halie goes on a rant about how basketball has become much more savage, and that basketball players are in thrall to drugs and women, and how sad it is to see "youth becoming monsters." After Halie tosses one of the roses onto Dodge, Shelly stands and asks Halie if she wants to know who she is. She tells Halie that she came with Vince, Halie's grandson, for a visit, but Halie does not seem to care, and simply asks where Tilden is. This only upsets Shelly more, and she yells at Halie to listen to her.

Halie becomes worried about Tilden's whereabouts, as Bradley and Dodge battle it out for the blanket. Suddenly, Shelly throws the cup and saucer against the door and everyone freezes. "I don't like being ignored. I don't like being treated like I'm not here. I didn't like it when I was a kid and I still don't like it," she says, and Bradley dismissively calls her a prostitute. Angered, Shelly grabs Bradley's wooden leg and her rabbit coat. Halie tells Shelly to leave her house and give Bradley back his leg, as Bradley whimpers on the couch.

Dewis goes to Shelly with the roses and asks her to be reasonable. Shelly delivers a monologue about the fact that Vince talked about each of them so often that she came up with images of them in her head. "I really believed when I walked through that door that the people who lived here would turn out to be the same people in my imagination," she says.

Dewis suggests that there is no way the family members could have possibly lived up to her images of them, but she believes that her imagination had a prophetic quality. She then alludes to the buried child, and Bradley gets very upset, saying, "She thinks she's going to get it out of us. She thinks she's going to uncover the truth of the matter. Like a detective or something." Dewis begs Shelly to be reasonable, as Dodge agrees to tell the story of what happened, much to Bradley and Halie's chagrin.

"We made a pact between us! You can't break that now!" Bradley pleads. Dodge tells Shelly that they used to have a very successful farm, when Halie got unexpectedly pregnant again. He suggests that, at the time, he and Halie hadn't even been sleeping in the same bed for six years, and implies that Tilden was the baby's father. At this point, Shelly isn't even sure if she wants to hear the story, but Dodge continues. He tells Shelly that he had Halie give birth to the baby alone, and that the birth was hard. "It lived. It wanted to grow up in this family. It wanted to be just like us. It wanted to be a part of us. It wanted to pretend that I was its father. She wanted me to believe in it. Even when everyone around us knew. Everyone. All our boys knew. Tilden knew," he says. He tells Shelly that Tilden used to go for walks with the baby, and says, "Everything was cancelled out by this one mistake." He admits to drowning the baby, "just like the runt of a litter."

Halie becomes upset and wonders "What's happened to the men in this family! Where are the men!" Abruptly Vince drunkenly falls through the screen door and stands up holding a bunch of shopping bags filled with empty liquor bottles, singing "The Marine's Hymn." Shelly and the others call to Vince, but he does not know who Vince is. Bradley tells Vince to get lost, but Vince says, wildly, "Maybe I should come in there and usurp your territory!" Bradley goes to grab Vince, but misses.

Shelly tells Vince she wants to leave. He threatens her that no one leaves alive, and as she goes onto the porch, he pulls out a hunting knife and cuts a hole in the screen. As Dewis and Halie go upstairs to wait out the chaos, Halie insisting that Vince was the sweetest little boy who sang in his sleep, Vince climbs through the door as Shelly goes out onto the porch.

Dodge declares his last will and testament, leaving his house to Vince, his tools to Tilden. Meanwhile, Vince puts the knife in his teeth and smells the yellow roses. Shelly tells him she's leaving, but Vince wants to stay since he has inherited the house. "I've gotta carry on the line," he says, "I've gotta see to it that things keep rolling." He tells Shelly that he drove really far last night, during which time he saw his reflection in the windshield, through which he could see all of his ancestors, as he drove all the way to Iowa.

Shelly puts Vince's overcoat and saxophone on the couch, before leaving for good. Vince teases Bradley with his wooden leg, as Dewis comes back down the stairs. Vince throws the wooden leg, as Dewis tells him to go visit Halie. "There's nobody else in this house. Except for you. And you're leaving, aren't you?" Vince replies. Dewis says he does not know how to help, as he didn't even know the family was in trouble, then leaves.

Vince goes over to Dodge, who has died, and lays a coat over him. Just then, Halie calls down, telling Dodge that Tilden was right about all the corn crops. "It's like a paradise out there, Dodge...Maybe the rain did something. Maybe it was the rain," she says. As she talks, Tilden comes in, carrying the buried child, which he dug up. Vince stares at the ceiling, ignoring Tilden, as Tilden climbs the stairs. Halie talks about the fact that one has to be patient with growing and plants, finally saying, "Maybe it's the sun. Maybe that's it. Maybe it's the sun."


Even if Halie is coming from the outside world, she does not conform to any normal social standards. While she is disoriented by the presence of a stranger in her home, Halie does not make any effort to discover who Shelly is, instead attributing her presence to the entrance of the devil into her unoccupied home. Halie is haunted by the same unusual logic of Dodge and the men in her family, exhibiting a skewed understanding of typical customs and reality, but her demons have driven her outside the house and towards the church. All of her sense of understanding and goodness comes from conformity and her connection to institutions outside the home.

When Halie returns home, Dodge and Bradley battle it out to be mothered by her. While Shelly has offered to mother Dodge by bringing him broth, he refuses this care. Bradley lies on the couch with a blanket, while Dodge sits on the floor, and Halie tries to make their positions equal, but they battle over the blanket. "He's got my blanket again!" Dodge yells, like a rancorous infant, and Halie scolds Bradley for stealing his father's blanket. At various times in the play, different characters become infantile, needing care from the others. Thus, we begin to imagine that they are each versions of the titular buried child, lost infants who are searching desperately for the comfort of care.

The two outsiders in the family, Shelly and Father Dewis, each take very different approaches to the wackiness of the household. Shelly, having stayed there overnight, is driven to a state of abject annoyance by the lack of coherence within the house, as well as the sneaking suspicion that there is something vaguely familiar about the house. She details the fact that Vince's descriptions of the family members made her feel like she knew them, to the extent that she had prophetic imaginary pictures of them in her mind. Dewis, on the other hand, tries to maintain a reasonable perspective, but in so doing becomes complicit in the strange and surreal logics that dictate the space. Where Dewis wants to maintain the peace, Shelly wants to get to the bottom of things and understand the mystery of the "buried child."

In this final section, Dodge tells the full story of the buried child. What has just been a vague and disturbing mystery becomes a full story, a story that Bradley and Halie would rather Dodge did not tell. He details the fact that Halie had a child that was not Dodge's, a small baby, and that he was plagued by the knowledge that everyone knew the baby was not his. Thus, he says, he killed the baby, as an animal might kill the runt of the litter. It is a straightforward and devastating story, told plainly, and its traumatic weight seems to push all of the absurdities and confusion of the play into a stark and brutal focus. What has seemed like a goofy and thoroughly surreal dream of a play suddenly becomes a gruesome nightmare.

The play ends in a flurry of chaos and absurdism, as well as some sobering images of death and decay. Vince returns home, wildly drunk, hardly able to recognize anyone, but overjoyed with the fact that he is part of a patrilineal line and will inherit his grandfather's house. He discusses the fact that he studied his reflection and saw in his own face the faces of all his paternal ancestors, and that that is what led him to return to the house. As soon as Vince assumes this role, Dodge dies on the couch, and Tilden comes back into the house, carrying the corpse of the baby that Dodge killed. It is a confusing and affecting image of life lost, life dredged up, sins rectified. The human body is compared to a spring crop, as the images of Dodge's death and Tilden carrying the baby are accompanied by Halie's rumination on the nature of agriculture and growth. She discusses the fact that the crops have grown back, and we can see the buried child, the shame of the family, as its own perverse kind of crop, plucked from the earth like a root vegetable.