Throughout our lives, we oftentimes struggle with our conscious and subconscious needs and wants. We oftentimes may find it difficult to create a balance between the two. Psychologically speaking, we have mechanisms that we use that allow us to maintain balance of our personality. According to Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory of personality, we are able to stabilize our personality using three distinct, interacting elements. These elements are utilized in our mental psyche to create our complex human behaviors. The first scene begins set forty miles east of Los Angeles, California, in a quiet, suburban town.
The play begins with two characters, Lee and Austin, who we quickly discover are brothers. There is an immediate bold distinction of characteristics between the two brothers as Sam Shepard’s True West uses these primary characters as symbolism for two different elements of the human psyche.
In the beginning we observe that Lee, the older brother, is constantly trying to satisfy his basic urges, needs, and desires.
We immediately get a sense that Lee moves through life using the “pleasure principle”, or Id of his psyche. The human Id is a component of personality that is present from birth. It is the source of our physical needs, impulses, and desires. The Id wants what feels good at the time and does not consider the reality of a situation. With Lee, we can see that he places his wants first when speaking with Austin in the kitchen. The following excerpt displays Lee’s ruling element of personality, the Id:
Austin: “So you don’t know how long you’ll be staying then?
Lee: “Depends mostly on houses, ya’ know.
Lee: “Yeah. Houses. Electric devices. Stuff like that. I gotta’ make a little tour first.”
Austin: “Lee, why don’t you just try another neighborhood, all right?” (Act I, Scene I, page 10).
In this scene, Austin and Lee are becoming reacquainted with one another after not seeing each other for over five years. Lee is proposing that he will take a tour of the neighborhood to break into those homes which he deems as “lush”. He asks Austin to borrow his car so that he can go around breaking to the neighbors’ homes. Lee wants to do what he wants to do and what drives his personality are innate desires.
Throughout the play, Lee is constantly reminding the audience that he will do whatever it takes to survive, without the regards of how it will affect others. When Austin speaks to Lee about a project he is pitching to a Hollywood producer, Saul Kimmer, Lee becomes interested in creating and pitching a project of his own to Saul. Lee’s temperament is continuously presented in almost every scene. Lee’s aggression eventually becomes the deciding factor of his fate. With the help of his younger brother, Lee’s motion picture film pitch is picked up by Saul and in a turn of events, Austin’s is dropped (Act II, Scene 5, pg. 36). Lee does not take into consideration that this is Austin’s work in life. Austin has left a family back home up North. Austin’s entire purpose for his trip to his mother’s home was solely for the meeting with Mr. Saul Kimmer. Austin’s project was a sure thing which had been planned out throughout several meetings over the course of a few months. Due to the fact that Lee has used aggression and violence to obtain this opportunity, it is a clear indication that Shepard has displayed him as the symbol of the Id. The dream for Austin is now deferred due to Lee’s selfish actions.
The way Lee approaches the art of writing, is another example of how Lee continuously exhibits the “pleasure principle” and how he symbolizes the Id element of personality in a psychoanalytic perspective. In his writing approach, the story Lee begins to tells lacks organization and structure and is quite impulsive in the way the events of his story unfolds. Lee has a good understanding of the story he wants to tell, however, he struggles to engage in the clear writing process which currently only Austin possesses. For example, in Act II, Scene 7, Lee says, “Just help me a little with the characters, all right? You know how to do it Austin.” Austin: (On floor, laughs) “The characters!” Lee: “Yeah. You know. The way they talk and stuff. I can hear it in my head but I can’t get it down on paper.” As Lee begins to comprehend that he lacks the skills his brother has attained, he again, begins to use aggression to force Austin to write his story for him. Lee adopts grand ideas rather than specific details in his writing. He throws out thoughts to Austin rather than coherently bring his them together into one smooth storyline.
In Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory, the Ego is an element of personality which seeks to maintain a realistic sense of life. The responsibility of the Ego is create a balance between the desires of the Id while taking account ethical and cultural ideals. The Ego functions to meet the needs of the Id while taking into consideration the reality of the situation. As we discuss how Shepard uses the symbolism of the Ego as the character Austin, we will additionally discover how the author continues to convey this idea to the audience. The conflicts that arise between the two brothers further unveil how Freud’s theory is demonstrated through literary characters and how they seem to complement one another. The two primary characters collide as they seek to balance out one another in the exact same way both the Id and Ego do in one’s mind.
Austin’s character symbolizes the Ego of the human psyche in that he is able to rationalize impulsive decisions with realistic outcomes. Shepard portrays Austin as the polar opposite of his brother, Lee. Contrast to Lee’s approach to writing, Austin takes steps in order to achieve the quality of work he believes
Hollywood producers are looking for. Austin studiously takes notes and creates outlines. In Act I Scene I pg. 8, Lee tells Austin he probably doesn’t think Lee understands what Austin is doing and Austin replies, “It’s just a little research.” He is concerned with the structure of the way the story is told. He is attentive to the way in which how realistic the story sounds. In Act I, Scene 4, the two brothers have sat down to begin to compose Lee’s proposal story for Saul. Austin: “It’s too·” Lee: “What? It’s too what? It’s too real! That’s what ya’ mean isn’t it? It’s too much like real life!” Austin: “It’s not like real life! It’s not enough like real life. Things don’t happen like that.” Based off this excerpt we observe how Austin’s symbolism of the Ego comes in to balance out Lee’s impulsivity of the Id. He tries to explain to his brother Lee that the events of the story are almost too manufactured. Austin understands that Lee lacks the comprehension of writing literature and the way Lee recommends can hurt the overall quality of his project in the long run. Austin’s principles mirror to those of the Ego in the human psyche. He struggles with his brother to maintain balance the same way the Ego will do with the Id.
Contrary to his brothers’ erratic decisions in life, Austin is a man who has had his life planned out. As earlier mentioned, Austin tells Lee how he has left his family back up North to come down to meet Saul Kimmer, a Hollywood producer, to pitch his love story film. Austin mentions that there have been months of planning that have went into the moment he has been awaiting. Austin: “Lee, come on, level with me will you? ·I’ve been talking to him for months. I’ve got too much at stake. Everything’s riding on this project.” (Act II, Scene 5, pg. 38). In this same scene, Austin continues to display his role of being symbolic in True West.
The Ego component represents conscious decision making processes that occur which help shape our personality. Austin, symbolizing the Ego, demonstrates this when he finds out from his brother Lee that his project has been dropped by Saul Kimmer (Act II, Scene 5, pg. 36). Prior to a turn of events in the play, Austin is taken aback by the news of the decision made by Saul without his consultation. Rather than lashing out at Lee in anger, as Lee does to Austin when he is upset, Austin makes a conscious decision to leave the house to clear his mind. Austin: “Just give me my keys! I gotta’ take a drive. I gotta’ get out of here for a while.” Lee: “Where you gonna’ go, Austin?” Austin: (Pause) “I might just drive out to the desert for a while. I gotta’ think.” Act II, Scene 5, pg. 38). Although Austin is clearly upset about what has transpired, he does not impulsively make a decision he may ultimately regret. Unlike his counterpart sibling, Austin strives to synthesize the energies of both his mind and body.
Although Shepard uses Austin and Lee as Psychoanalytic symbols, this does not mean that the two do not have very real conflicts and desires. Upon meeting Austin and Lee, they are described as living and breathing characters. From the moment the characters are described, we can come to a conclusion that they both have lived entirely different lives. Their traits are well defined throughout the play. Shepard utilized literature to illustrate the internal struggle many people face daily between the unconscious and subconscious mind. The Ego and the Id are the two main clashing elements of the human psyche. Sam Shepard’s True West can attest to the manner in which our personality is continuously competing between our innate desires and our valued morals.