Buried Child

Buried Child Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Rain (Motif)

Rain appears as a motif in the play. In the first and second acts, it is raining very hard outside, and the house is a kind of shelter from that rain, an image of the comforts of home. In this moment, the rain represents the darkness and melancholy of the play. However, once Tilden begins pulling up vegetables, we realize that rain is also the source of growth and agricultural abundance. At the end, Halie talks about how the rain is part of what produced the vegetables in the backyard, which might be interpreted as meaning that even darkness and hard times can create abundance and growth.

The Vegetables (Symbol)

Tilden keeps bringing in different kinds of vegetables that he says he plucked from the backyard, even though Dodge and Halie insist that nothing has grown there since 1935. The vegetables symbolize some kind of overflowing and abundance, hearkening back to a time when the family home used to be a successful farm. This growth and abundance come about at the same time as the shameful family secret comes to light, which suggests that the vegetables also represent a kind of reckoning, a bursting forth of something that can no longer be denied.

Buried Child (Symbol)

The titular buried child, the baby that Dodge drowned and buried in the backyard, symbolizes family secrets more generally, and that information which families do not want to get out. It is a horrifying and shameful secret that has completely dissolved and destroyed the family unit. The buried child is a literal dead child in the backyard, but it is also a symbol of shame, secrets, and the destruction of familial bonds.

Whiskey (Symbol)

Throughout the play, Dodge sneaks whiskey from a flask that he keeps under the couch cushions. More often than not, Dodge drinks excessively and smokes cigarettes instead of taking his pills and trying to feel better. The whiskey is a symbol for Dodge's escapism and his desire to run away from his own pain and suffering rather than address it and heal from it. It is a symbol of repression and unhappiness, an unhealthy, if socially acceptable and masculine, coping mechanism.

Rabbit Coat (Symbol)

When Shelly enters the family house, she is wearing a rabbit coat. At first, this coat symbolizes the fact that Shelly is a city girl, someone raised in Los Angeles who likes wearing feminine and fashionable clothing. Later, Tilden becomes fascinated with the coat and Shelly gives it to him. He touches it and uses it to cover himself. Once Shelly is absorbed into the world of the house, the rabbit coat becomes a symbol of protection and comfort, a soft covering that protects against the suffering and darkness of the world.