Disappointment and disillusionment
- The character of Ansel; he is the son Halie idolizes as an All-American hero, despite his death due to suspicious circumstances in a motel room. Halie fantasizes about his potential to be a hero, an All-American star basketball player, reflecting the American hope in the youth. Yet his death and subsequent denouncement reflects the disappointment and disillusionment which many people experienced when they realize the actuality of the American circumstance.
- The two sons (Tilden and Bradley) both failed their parents' expectation. Both are expected to take over the farm or at least care for the parents in their old age, thus fulfilling the American mythology of the next generation taking over from the last. However both sons are handicapped – Tilden emotionally and Bradley physically. They are unable to care for their parents and thus unable to carry out the American Dream.
- Dodge felt the failure of the farm and the family as whole. He had failed to make the farm successful, he had not even planted any type of crop for over thirty years. He felt he had not lived up to what a typical American family's dream should have been. The play often shows the father as generally sitting around doing very little, steeped in a major depression.
- The character of Shelly is used to show the audience what the ideal family should be. Her disgust with what she expects and what is actually reality helps to show the audience what the American dream should be.
1970s economic slowdown
- The house itself is run down, reflecting the poverty of American farms.
- Nothing has been planted in the fields.
Breakdown of traditional family structures and values
- Dodge, the ineffectual patriarch, is meant to be the breadwinner and ethical guardian of the family. Instead, he takes on the role of a sardonic alcoholic who is bullied by his wife and children, and thus disempowered through their actions. His character reflects patriarchs in America who have failed to create the family environments idealised in the American Dream.
- The act of incest and the resultant murder are indicative of a breakdown in the ethical rigidity which characterizes the typical American family.
- The character of Father Dewis, adulterous and unauthoritative, fails to fulfill the role of moral guardian assigned to him by society, thus reflecting the breakdown of morality and ethics within America.
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