Buried Child


It?s amazing what a secret can do to a person. Keeping secrets among friends can be fun, or helpful when you need to confide in someone you trust. Other secrets can do more harm than good. They can fester inside you and cause endless pain. In "Buried Child," this is the case. The family is permanently altered by their secret, which becomes a growing moral cancer to them, leaving each impotent in their own way.
The play takes place on Dodge?s farm. About thirty years ago, the farm was fertile and prosperous. Dodge and Halie didn?t have a wonderful marriage, however. Things took a turn for the worse when Halie became pregnant with someone else. It is suggested that Tilden is the father. The evidence to support this includes the fact that the baby was small, and that Tilden would sing to it and take it for long walks all day, just talking to it and treating it as his own. "Tilden
was the one who knew. Better than any of us. He?d walk for miles with that kid in his arms. Halie let him take it. All night sometimes." (p. 124) Dodge would not allow this abomination to grow up and live in his family, so he drowned it, and buried it in the backyard. We can guess that this is when the farm ceased to be fertile, and fell into disuse. This is a symbol of the death of honesty and the birth of the family?s terrible secret.
Why exactly does everything go wrong for this family? We don?t know exactly when the problems started, but we know that Ansel died on his honeymoon, Bradley cut off his own leg in a chain saw accident and is now mentally imbalanced, Tilden is nonfunctional and has been driven out of New Mexico, Dodge is a crazy old sick guy, and Halie is doing shady things with the preacher. Vince is the only person capable of facing the world and life, but he too is corrupted by the secret at the end. The answer to the question is that their secret, the dead child, is a secret festering them from the inside out. It is unclear
how long this moral degradation took, it may have taken years for all this to happen. We do know that it has left everyone impotent.
Bradley is the most vivid example of this impotence. His false leg is his crutch, both figuratively and literally. With it, he has the most power of any of the people in the play. He maims and shaves Dodge with no repercussions, intimidates Tilden to the point of making him run away, and he rapes Shelly by sticking his hands into her mouth. "With his free hand he puts his fingers into her mouth. She tries to pull away. BRADLEY: Just stay put! She freezes. He keeps
his fingers in her mouth." (p. 107) Without his leg, however, he no more than a sniveling infant. "Mom! Mom! She?s got my leg! She?s taken my leg! I never did anything to her. She?s stolen my leg!" (p. 120) He can?t even try to get it, just reach out and whine like a baby. He seems incapable of even adult reasoning.
There is a major difference in the effect this impotence has on Bradley and Tilden. While Bradley denies the truth, telling Tilden he doesn?t know, he wasn?t born yet, Tilden is on an active search for the body of this child. Bradley wants the secret to remain a secret. Tilden wants it out in the open, wants the closure, even if subconsciously. That?s why he finds corn, carrots, and potatoes out in the fields, while Bradley and the others see only the rain.
The land represents the soul, and is fertile for Tilden because in his way he is seeking to right this terrible wrong by revealing the child. When Tilden covers Dodge with the corn husks, but leaves his head uncovered, he is covering him with something good that the land, or in this case his maimed soul, has produced. He is trying to help Dodge to realize that the truth must be told. Bradley comes into the room and throws the husks off, shaves Dodge?s head and cuts him while he is helpless, like a punishment for the