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February 04, 2009

Loving to Fool with Sam Shepard's _Fool for Love_

Image Source: http://londontheatredirect.com/large/FoolForLove.jpg

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love & the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001. ISBN: 0872861503

ENG 122 & 435 Students . . .

If you are a ENG 122 student, please follow the instructions for your assignment as given in class. The instructions below are not for you--they are for 435 students.

If you are a ENG 435 Student,

Two things are due here: [1] Application Papers and [2] Conference Papers

[1] If you wrote an application paper on this work, you will enter it in the comment box below.

Keep in mind that you will write 10 short, but concise, application papers this semester: one for each module / theory. However, ALL of your application papers will NOT be on the same work of literature. After your initial choice, you are expected to rotate between the four primary works (Fitzgerald, Joyce, Shepard, and Fleming) before coming back to this one. Enter your application papers for the other authors in their own dedicated entries on the English-Blog (click on the "Critical Theory" or "Literature" links in the Scattegories menu to the left if you are lost!).

In addition to being due n the comment box below by the deadline (see itinerary), your application paper is ALSO due in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com. Bring a hardcopy of your paper to class according to the deadline listed on our itinerary (see syllabus) and, as usual, be prepared to discuss your article with the rest of the class.

The purpose of the application papers are to give you exercise and preparation for the longer paper due in the final weeks of the course (see itinerary) for our mock-student-conference panels.

[2] If you wrote a conference paper on this author, enter it in the comment box below. It is also due on turnitin.com by the deadline AND as a hardcopy for your portfolio and for the actual conference itself (you will read it aloud).

I look forward to seeing your work,

Dr. Hobbs


Find some study questions (as first seen on your reading-checks) below:

• Who is the author of “Fool for Love”? (Sam Shepard)

• What “genre” is “Fool for Love”?

• What is the name of the person with whom May thinks Eddie has had an affair?
(the “Countess”)

• Explain how the old man has been described so far in your reading. What does he look like--what is he doing?
(sits silent in a rocking chair with whiskey and a Styrofoam cup)

• Where does “Fool for Love” take place? What is the setting?
(old motel room in Mojave Desert)

• You were assigned a work to read by Sam Shepard. What was the work’s name?
(“Fool for Love”)

• How many total characters are in Sam Shepard’s work?

• Name three of the characters created by Sam Shepard
(Eddie, May, Old Man, or Martin)

• Who is “the Countess”?
(person May has accused Eddie of having an affair with)

• Does May do after Eddie kisses her?
(knees him in the groin)

• In theatre, plays are usually divided into acts. How many acts are in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love?

• Explain what happens to Eddie’s truck.

• Where does May keep her drinking glasses and who does this annoy?

• How did Eddie’s mother die?

• In the beginning of the play, the role of the old man is unclear. By the end of the play, the audience knows his true part in the story. What is it?

• What is Martin’s job?

• What kind of car did the old man drive, a Studebaker or a Plymouth? What character had the information wrong?

• Explain what May and her mother did together one day when May was young (according to May).

• What relationship does the audience assume exists between Eddie and May in the beginning of the play? How does this change by the end of the play?
• Of what significance is singer Barbara Mandrell to this play? What role does she play indirectly?

• Significance. What is significant about the Old Man's story about May as a baby in the cattle field? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Revelation. When do we first realize the true nature of Eddie and May's relationship? Does their blood relation change the nature of their obsession with each other? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Purpose. Why is the Countess important to the story even though she does not appear on stage? Is she a realistic or symbolic element of the play? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• The Role of Setting. Identify the themes of the play. How does the setting of the play contribute or detract from these themes? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Differences. How do the differences in May and Eddie's versions of their story reveal aspects of their character? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• The Power of Suggestion. Why is the Countess important to the story even though she does not appear on stage? How would the play change if she came in the door? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Emotional Tone. Why is the Countess important to the story even though she does not appear on stage? What effect does she have on the tone of the play? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Purpose. What is the function of the character Martin? How does his presence contribute to our understanding of the other characters? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Short Passages. What does Shepard mean by the play’s title, Fool for Love? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Ethics. What does the play say about parental and sibling relationships? What is Shepard's point of view? Do you agree with it? Why or why not? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.

• Fate versus Free Will. Could May and Eddie choose to break the patterns of their parents' lives or do they lack free will? Why or Why Not? Use examples from the text to prove your answer.


For more English-Blog entries on the topic of Critical Theory, please click HERE.

To see other English-Blog entries on the subject of Literature, please click HERE.

Posted by lhobbs at February 4, 2009 10:19 AM

Readers' Comments:

Liz H

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

February 4, 2009

Formalism/New Criticism view of “Fool for Love”

When examining Sam Sheppard’s play “Fool for Love” from the perspectives of the Formalists and New Critics, two main ideas emerge as quite important as one should remember to place an emphasis on the text itself and practice close reading.

“Fool for Love” is a short play that focuses on the lives of May and Eddie and their spiraling love for each other. The intensity is easily felt throughout their dialogues, especially with the appearance of the Countess, as May refers to her, and her anger she enacts on Eddie’s car. However, the abrupt ending is starling. One can see the conflicts of love, jealousy, and family interweaved throughout the text. Since the text is the only thing a reader should pay attention to, it is hard to ignore the outside influences and nagging questions presented by this play. As a part of close reading, one can see that the western theme is well presented and the dialects are easily distinguishable. “A Fool for Love” is an interesting play, and I look forward to seeing it performed, especially to see if my interpretations match to its presentation on stage.

The overall value of interpreting “A Fool for Love” through the lens of Formalism and New Criticism lies overtly in the text. Since this is a play, it is especially important to pay attention to small nuances of the author’s words. However, my only slight criticism of strictly reading the play in such a fashion is the fact that Sam Sheppard specifically placed his play in a certain time era. The stage directions and décor of the set could perhaps influence the audience’s own interpretations and understandings and label it as out-dated and, therefore, a poor choice for performing it.

Works Cited
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His
Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Liz H at February 4, 2009 09:36 PM

The Fly On the Wall in Fool For Love
In Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” the protagonist, May is harassed by her half-brother Eddie. The point of view in this story is from the third person; it is a play and is therefore meant to be seen. However if one were to consider Martin, Eddie, May, and the Old Man’s point of view, the point of view radically changes.
The play opens with May clinging to Eddies leg, an act of desperation that from May’s point of view is the way of keeping Eddie from leaving her motel room, and quite possibly her life. May’s point of view changes as the play goes on, that is it appears to change. She is frightened beyond imagination that Eddie is going to leave her, which he does. Her view of Martin is that of a putting on aires to be normal and appear to not have a dysfunctional background.
Eddie spends the better part of the play harassing May and antagonizing Martin. His point of view is that of an ex boyfriend, who just so happens to be May’s half-brother. Eddie doesn’t concern himself with whether he follows social norms or not, from his point of view he is always right, ethics or not. Eddie sees Martin as less than a man, from his point of view Martin is less than worthy of having May’s attention. The Old Man is a separate entity from the other characters. His point of view is that of a regretful ghost, always trying to make amends but never fully achieving it.
Martin is the final character to be introduced to the audience and in the play. He is the unsuspecting victim so to speak. His point of view is from the innocent of observer, and he sufferes the most from Eddie’s wrath. All that Martin wanted to do was spend an evening with May, and of course that does not happen.

Posted by: Chris Collier at February 10, 2009 01:30 AM

Jessica P.
ENG 435
Dr. Hobbs

How To Do Things With Words In Fool For Love

In How To Do Things With Words, J. L. Austin describes a series of utterances which he calls performatives. These performatives are sentences which describe the doing of an action (Austin 162). They are neither true nor false but must be performed in appropriate circumstances in order to be in a happy state (163). Otherwise, these statements are in a state of infelicity, six of which Austin describes in his article. Readers can apply Austin’s theory of utterances and infelicities to Sam Shepard’s play Fool For Love, where one can identify the performatives and their infelicity.

In the beginning of the play, May tells Eddie, “I’m gonna’ kill her ya’ know” (Shepard 20). One can see that this is a performative because this sentence describes an action May wants to carry out. She does not simply say this sentence but is issuing the performance of an action. This particular utterance commits an infelicity because May does not follow through with her performative sentence. Simply, she does not kill Eddie’s other lover. Although anger makes May voice this utterance, it becomes an infelicity because it was spoken in the wrong situation. May’s desire does not follow through with her actions. Thus, rules A.1 and A.1 were broken, causing the performative to be unhappy (Austin 166).

In the beginning of the play, Eddie also utters a performative which commits an infelicity. “I’m gonna take care of you, May. I am. I’m gonna’ stick with you no matter what. I promise.” (Shepard 24). Eddie comes back to see May because he loves her and wants to renew their intimate relationship. However, Eddie’s uttered promise of commitment to May was an infelicity because he did not follow through. Eddie left May at the end of the book, leaving her in the same circumstance he found her in. This promise broke the I.1 and I.2 rules of infelicities because his thoughts and feelings were not appropriate, as Eddie obviously did not mean his profession and promise (Austin 166).

A third example of a performative can be found on page 48, “May: I’m not leaving! This is your mess, not mine.” This utterance is completely valid and does not commit any of the infelicities Austin describes. May does not leave throughout the whole play, as the play ends with her talking to Martin and the Old Man with Eddie “gone” (Shepard 77). Thus, this utterance does not go wrong as it is uttered in the appropriate situation with suiting thoughts and feelings.

Although there are clearly six possibilities of infelicity, Austin stresses that one must not oversimplify the categorization of performatives (176). Thus, the classification of utterances in Fool For Love may be unclear, as the rules overlap. For example, Eddie’s love profession on page 24 breaks the I.1 and I.2 rules; however, they also can break rules A.1 and A.2 In a different situation, Eddie’s commitment to May could have been genuine, and he would have kept his promise. Thus, perceiving the utterance in this way makes the sentence an infelicity, breaking rules A.1 and A.2, because it was spoken in the wrong situation.

Works Cited
Austin, J.L. “How To Do Things With Words”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.162-176.

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His
Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at February 10, 2009 11:56 PM

Kristin Brittain

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435


“Fool for Love” and the reader’s experience

“Fool for Love” written by Sam Shepard is a play detailing the tremulous and incestuous relationship between two half siblings May and Eddie. The play is about a seemingly never ending succession of desertion and returning. Eddie drove two thousand four hundred and eighty miles to find May, and after his arrival he constantly threatened to leave as well as stay and May repeatedly drifted between asking Eddie to leave and begging him to stay; and all the while she packed her bags. The reader recognizes the apparent dangers that the characters faced by living within this cycle. Reader response critic Stanley Fish came up with the concept in his article “Not so much a Teaching as an Intangling” of the author’s manipulation of the reader to recreate the experience and emotions of the characters within the reader to emphasis the authors intention (Fish 195). Shephard utilizes Fish’s concept of reader manipulation by making the reader experience the same abandonments and arrivals that Eddie and May go through to emphasis the dangers of the cycle.
Eddie and May’s relationship is riddled with trouble and is the essence of taboo. They could neither live with or without each other. May passionately declared, “All he could think of was me. Isn’t it right, Eddie. We couldn’t take a breath without thinking of each other. We couldn’t eat if we weren’t together. We couldn’t sleep. We got sick at night when we were apart” (Shepard 72). Yes, they loved each other but it was at a disastrous cost. Their ability to function without each other was due to the unsteadiness of their relationship. Prior to his arrival in the motel room, Eddie disappeared and reappeared in May’s life for the past fifteen years. They constantly battled between their desire to leave or stay through out the play, and their strong emotions brought the audience along for the ride.
Shepard set the play in a dingy motel room in which the characters continually entered in and out of. May moved between the room and the bathroom while Eddie entered from and exited to the parking lot. The setting is important because it is just one room and the constant coming and going of the two main characters, plus the fading in and out of the old man, takes the reader on an abandonment and returning roller coaster. The audience does not know who is staying or leaving. As the reader recognized the dangerous cycle he became a part of it too. With this technique Shepard emphasized the dangers associated with being in such an unsteady relationship such as Eddie and May’s. When May “fell off of the wagon” and took a swig of Eddies tequila the audience wanted a literary swig of intoxication to take the edge off of being apart of their troubling relationship.
The reader’s journey of experiencing ended when Eddie left at the end of the play. The reader, as well as May, was left with no closure. No one knows if the cycle will continue. However, the important thing is the reader experienced the dangerous emotions associated with being constantly abandoned and returned to; a lesson taught by Shepard.

Works Cited

Fish, Stanley. “Not so much a Teaching as an Intangling.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.

Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998.
195- 216.
Shepard, Sam. “Fool for Love.” San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Kristin B. at February 11, 2009 12:00 PM

Travis Rathbone

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

17 February 2009

Critiquing Chatman: The Mimetic Nature of Illocution in Fool For Love

Though most of Seymour Chatman’s critical essay “The Structure of Narrative Transmission” is a, decidedly, difficult text to apply to a work, a few thoughts examined in the essay create enough friction to produce some interesting effects. One point in particular—that of the mimetic nature of narrative due to its inability to genuinely produce illocution—can be examined with intense scrutiny, especially when applied to a work such as Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love.

Chatman writes at length about the faux illocutionary and mimetic nature of literature. According to speech act theory, a sentence’s purpose and intention is dubbed illocution; the sentence’s syntactical/grammatical makeup is its locution; finally, the effect the sentence has on the recipient is its perlocution. It is important to note that Chatman emphasizes the spoken sentence, and unless a sentence is given an audible voice, it wants in authenticity. He accuses literature of being a “pretended illocutionary force: ‘Specifically, the reader constructs (imagines) a speaker and a set of circumstances to accompany the quasi speech-act, and make it felicitous’” (Rivkin 101). Now, granted, in a written work of literature, this notion seems legitimate. However, when the text used for this essay—Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love—is examined in this light, the claim does not seem to hold as much clout because the performance would make the otherwise quasi speech-acts felicitous.

According to Chatman, speech patterns in narrative fiction are mimetic because they “falsely” come into being. A sentence written on the page only comes to life in the reader’s mind and is not given life through the spoken word; the sentence is not given a voice and therefore its illocution is only a product of the mind. However, the rules bend slightly when reading Fool For Love. If taken as a piece of narrative fiction, the notion that the work is mere mimicry seems fine. But, Fool For Love is a work of drama meant to be brought to life through the actions of the cast. Because of this, one reading the work cannot easily detach himself from this knowledge. The dialogue presented on the page—and spoken by the cast of players—has a voice (through previous productions) other than the voice created by the reader. Because the play has been performed prior to reading, the work can move past the stage of false illocution to that of genuine. For example, the first bit of dialogue from the play is spoken by Eddie and is as follows: “May, look. May? I’m not goin’ anywhere” (Shepard 17). If reading this as pure narrative fiction, then the point must be conceded that the dialogue produced is only mimicking spoken dialogue; the reader produces his own meaning, voice, and tone from his interpretation of what he reads. However, because this work is a play and is meant to be and has already been performed, the reader is armed with the foreknowledge that meaning, voice, and tone have already been produced for the character and the sentence—in the form of dialogue. The work has moved past mimetic and into the realm of genuine. For Chatman, though, one other point must be conceded. Before the play was produced, when it was simply a script, its illocution would have been pretended. It was only after the play was performed, and the dialogue given a voice, that the illocution may be perceived as genuine.

Works Cited

Chatman, Seymour. "The Structure of Narrative Transmission." Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed.
Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 96 - 124.

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Travis R at February 18, 2009 10:39 AM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
24 February 2009

Shepard, Derrida, and the Signified
According to Jacques Derrida, author of “Of Grammatology”, writing or signification always possesses a duel meaning (Derrida 302). Writing, in other words, is not free from influence; “it is a secondary addition to ideas remembered” (Derrida 301). Derrida’s deconstructive approach can be applied to Sam Shepard’s play, “Fool for Love.”
Shepard describes the hotel room where the story takes place as a stark, low-rent motel room, with faded green plaster walls (Shepard 13). The visual background that Shepard describes supports Derrida’s claim that the words used to describe the scene are influenced by ideas remembered. Shepard’s categorization of the hotel room as stark and low-rent reaffirms that he is familiar with what types of hotel rooms qualify as low-rent. Shepard’s assertion that the walls were “faded green” implies that he has a preconceived idea of what can be categorized as “faded and green.” Since Shepard’s ideas are already preconceived, his application of the signifier (low-rent and stark) to the signified (hotel room), cannot be considered as his own ideas.
Derrida states that “the order of the signified is never contemporary” (Derrida 313). Derrida’s argues that no individual can place a new signifier to a signified because somewhere in the process, the signifier has already been associated with the signified. Derrida’s claim can be applied to the scene in Shepard’s play where Eddie has purchased magazines for May. Eddie description of “those fashion magazines, those French kind” (Shepard 25), support Derrida’s claim. Eddie’s association between the French and fashion is not a new concept or signifier of the signified. Throughout centuries, the French have often been associated as fashionable. Shepard’s use of this association supports Derrida’s claim that “the order of the signified is never contemporary” (Derrida 313).
Derrida states that “the concept of writing exceeds and comprehends that of language” (Derrida 305). Derrida’s assertion to this concept also exists in Shepard’s play. Shepard inadvertently implies that Eddie and May are involved in a romantic relationship. The reader speculates that Eddie and May are involved in a romantic relationship through the conversations that take place between the two of them; however, Shepard validates the reader’s speculation by putting it into written words.
According to Derrida, this transference of the signifier of language to writing “destroys the concept of “sign” and its entire logic” (Derrida 304), implying that whatever the reader assumes, as a result of what Eddie and May state, can be completely altered by what Shepard chooses to write in the form of written words. When an idea is written down, it becomes concrete, unlike language because it can be altered. Shepard’s use of dual narrations concerning the same story is an example of this type of destruction. Eddie’s narration of the events leading up to his relationship with May can be destroyed by May’s narration; just as the old man’s narration can destroy both, and so on.
The point that Derrida is trying to stress is that everything is influenced by something else, and that the individual interpretation of anything is limitless. Signifiers of the signified are continually being altered according to the preconceived ideas or personal experiences that an individual uses to associate a signifier with the signified.

Work Cited

Derrida, Jacques. “Of Grammatology.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell, 1998. 300-14.

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love. San Francisco: City Lights, 1983. 25.

Posted by: Ava at February 24, 2009 09:21 PM

Cecilia B
Dr. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
25th February 2009
Deconstructionist Reading of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love
Rooted in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s concept of the postmodern condition, Shepard’s play, Fool for Love, demonstrates both the ideas of metanarratives and delegitimation. As Lyotard explains, metanarratives are discourses grounded in a specific set of ideologies (such as religion, science, and law) which attempt to fully explain the world (355) and are generally dominant in societal thinking. The influence of metanarratives is evident in the play’s constant display of social anxieties pertaining to love and relationships, and even the textual construction of the play itself. For example, because metanarratives are directly applicable to tradition, the idea of non-kin related love associations are valued as lawful and acceptable because they follow the typical patriarchal design. A contradiction to this would be devalued under the Western metanarrative system and deemed corruptible to the truths the metanarrative’s laws impose. What’s more, the metanarrative of Western culture also constructs the form of a play by restricting it to a five-act structure since this design has been valued above all else for several centuries.
However, Lyotard also presents the notion of delegitimation which challenges the ‘truths’ metanarratives impose on society (358). In effect, the play breaks down the value of non-kin love relations and introduces the unfamiliar association between half brother and sister, May and Eddie. Their incestuous connection denies metanarrative constructs and liberates cultural views from the traditional idea of a man and woman (non-related) relationship. Furthermore, in a wider scope, Shepard follows the postmodern tradition by developing a one-act play with the rising, falling, and climactic actions as opposed to the traditional structure. This break from tradition allows for other ideologies (narratives) to be valued and reanalyzes the truths metanarratives propose.
Works Cited
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “The Postmodern Condition.” Literary Theory: An
Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell
Pub., 1998. 355-364.
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love. San Francisco: City Lights, 1983.

Posted by: Cecilia at February 25, 2009 12:21 PM

Liz H

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

March 3, 2009

Fool for Love Application 2

John Fiske cites media (television, newspapers, etc.) as a way for our cultural standards to be transmitted to the masses in his article, “Culture, Ideology, and Interpellation”. This is especially true in Sam Sheppard’s play, “A Fool for Love”. One can see cultural standards in the interaction of the characters, especially in the area of sexuality and preconceived cultural standards.

If I were to develop this topic further, I would definitely want to consider the ways in which incest is implied and carefully referred to throughout the text. I would even like to consult the Oxford Dictionary to try to ascertain the definition of incest for the period of the 1970s-80s in America. The sexual overtones throughout the play are particularly intriguing because if as Fiske alleges it is the “day-to-day workings of the ideological state apparatuses” (1270) that transmit culture, then Fiske would be right on target for Sheppard’s play because of the underlying issues presented particularly when Martin shows up and causes further complicated drama.

Works Cited

Fiske, John. "Culture, Ideology, Interpellation." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds.
Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 1268-273.

Parker, Richard G., and Peter Aggleton. Culture, Society, and Sexuality: A Reader.
2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His
Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Liz H at March 4, 2009 09:41 AM

Travis R
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
25 March 2009

Defining Shepard Through Lacan: The Old Man and the Metaphor

Upon initial glance, the difficulty of applying Jacques Lacan’s structural-linguistic oriented essay, “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud,” to Sam Shepard’s play, Fool For Love, becomes immediately apparent. The intricacy of the task is most cognizant when the mechanical essay (the former) is dissected and endeavors to correlate its main ideas to the fictional narrative (the latter) are attempted. However, one aspect of Lacan’s essay can be rather cogently applied to a character in Shepard’s play: Indeed, for the purpose of this essay, metaphor will be applied to the character of The Old Man.

To begin, the role of The Old Man must be analyzed, with his place in the work scrutinized, before metaphor can be defined: “He exists only in the minds of May and Eddie, even though they might talk to him directly and acknowledge his physical presence” (Shepard 15). Because The Old Man can only interact with the main male and female leads, Eddie and May’s own deeply disturbed psychosis could be questioned. What this patriarchal figure represents could be an interesting avenue or exploration. However, what exactly The Old Man represents is of lesser import than the mode of his existence, for The Old Man subsists in the literary mechanism of metaphor. What, precisely, his metaphorical intent might signify is up to an individual reader’s interpretation, but for the sake of confusion, he will be ascribed to feelings of unrequited, fatherly love shared by Eddie and May. In his essay, Lacan states, “The creative spark of the metaphor does not spring from the presentation of two images, that is, of two signifiers equally actualized, it flashes between two signifiers one of which has taken the place of another in a signifying chain” (Rivkin 453). In this instance, the unrequited, fatherly love felt by both May and Eddie is the main emotion for which The Old Man is substituting. By taking unrequited love (a signifier) and replacing it with The Old Man (another signifier), both signifiers meet at a crossroads and one is replaced by the other in the signifying chain, thus creating the metaphor. In a work of art such as this, finding interesting ways to present friction and advance the plot (e.g. by utilizing a character as a metaphor to elicit a deeper meaning) makes for not only an interesting viewing experience but also an interesting textual and theoretical reading.

It is important to note that Lacan presented his ideas in this essay to better understand the unconscious and how it deals with matters of psychosis. Whether or not his definition of metaphor is taken out of context when applied here, and whether or not it even matters, is something that should, perhaps, be addressed. But, really, the substitution of one signifier for another is all that is being done here, and metaphorically speaking, which one can only hope Lacan would appreciate, another crossroads has been reached.

Works Cited

Lacan, Jacques. "The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud." 1957.
Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.
Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 447 - 461.

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Travis R at March 25, 2009 09:41 AM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435

Understanding Discourse in Fool For Love

Mikhail Bakhtin wrote an article, Discourse in the Novel, in which he states that the fundamental conditions which define a novel are the characters and their dialogue (681). Language is the key basis of literary language of which is formed by social life and historical settings. Bakhtin claims that different languages are used in different settings and further, each generation at every social level creates their own language (676). Knowing this information, readers can apply Bakhtin’s theory to pieces of literature like Fool For Love to understand it fully.

As Fool for Love is set in the Midwest, western narrative is used to tell the story. Readers recognize this right away as the characters use slain in their dialogue. A particular instance of this discourse is found on p. 24, where Eddie uses lettin’ in his dialogue to May. Besides the slain, readers can pinpoint particular places where vocabulary is specific to this western social situation. On page 19, May tells Eddie, “You’re going to erase me”. In school situations, erase means to remove markings and in other settings, it means to completely remove. However, what does May mean in this situation with the word erase? Thus, knowing the background and social situations of where these words are used will help readers determine there correct meaning.

Page 20 offers another example of a word unique to this social setting. May tells Eddie, “Right in the moment when you’re sure you’ve got me buffaloed…” The ambiguous word here is buffaloed. What does the author, Sheppard, mean when he included this word? Out in the west, buffalos are common; thus, it is easy to see why this word was chosen. However, the definition is not obviously referring to the animal. Perhaps in the context of the sentence, it stands for her confusion of his actions towards her. Buffalos are huge animals, thus his negative decisions which affected May is like a huge buffalo or object blocking her love and forgiveness to break through.

As readers can see, novels are constructed through dialogue which is different for every situation. Language is split into genres of which authors choose different ones to incorporate into their works. Knowing the social context of where words are developed and spoken will help readers determine an accurate portrayal of the book and its intended meaning.

Works Cited
Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Discourse in the Novel”. 1934-35. 1900. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 674-685.
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at April 1, 2009 08:18 AM

Cecilia Bolich
Dr. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
1st April 2009
Marxism Reading of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love
From Marx’s chapter on commodification and value in his work, Capital, several economic factors can be culled for analysis against Shepard’s characters in Fool for Love. Specifically, Marx describes capitalistic systems reducing humans to objects and only considering the exchange-value they could fetch (667); and this occurs with Shepard’s characters May, Eddie, and Martin who are defined by both their utility and worth. Their value in society (and particularly their positions in the class system) is characterized by their individual work output. Eddie’s contribution as a truck driver, May’s contribution as a waitress, and Martin’s contribution as a high school grounds keeper are not equally valued in the capitalist network as Marx would claim they should. Rather, their class and living conditions are defined by the bourgeoisie. For example, May does not reside in a trailer, but she does not have a traditional home living instead in a cheap motel where she has to store what little food she possesses in her medicine cabinet. Therefore, May’s occupation as a waitress is not highly valued in conjunction with a business owner, for example, who may invest the same hours and physical exertion as her.
Consequently, this rings true of May’s two male lovers who themselves are valued differently, To explicate, Eddie’s job is clearly underpaid since Shepard reveals in his exposition that Eddie has to wear “boots with silver gaffer’s tape wrapped around them” (17); whereas Martin seems to earn more in his wages because he wears “heavy work boots” (51). This distinction reveals the immediate class leveling which stems from the value placed on various labor positions despite their equal work input. Ultimately, Shepard’s postmodern play bears Marxist anxieties and reveals the injustice of the capitalist system and commodification of individuals.
Works Cited
Marx, Karl. “Capital.” 1867. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and
Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell Pub., 1998. 665-672.
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love. San Francisco: City Lights, 1983.

Posted by: Cecilia at April 1, 2009 12:39 PM

Kristin Brittain
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
The role of silence and the Mercedes Benz within “Fool for Love”
“Fool for Love” written by Sam Shepard is a play detailing an incestuous and turbulent relationship between two half siblings May and Eddie. The play is a power struggle between the couple and it is centered on the idea of abandonment and return. May left Eddie because she believed Eddie was having an affair with a powerful woman called the “Countess.” However, throughout the play Eddie refuses to admit the affair to May and remains silent about the subject. Pierre Macherey provides insight in the article, “For a Theory of Literary Production” on incompletion of speech within the work. Macherey claims that the speech within a work comes from what the text does not say but still proclaims. The silence within “Fool for Love” pronounces the truths and in Eddie’s case his silence regarding May’s accusation of having a fair articulates the truth about his relationship with the Countess. Furthermore, May is threatened by Eddie’s relationship even further because the Countess is more powerful and economically inclined then May.
“The book is not self-sufficient; it is primarily accompanied by a certain absence, without which it would not exist” (Macherey 705). This statement could not be any truer within “Fool for Love” because the silence within the work creates an underlying tension. At first the reader expects the tension to be emitting because of the incestuous nature of their relationship however the real tension comes from Eddie’s inability to state the truth about his relationship with the Countess.
Eddie drove two thousand four hundred and eighty miles to find May why would May have traveled so far away from Eddie for no reason if Eddie was not cheating on her? But Eddie’s infidelity goes beyond just that. For May it isn’t just the fact that Eddie was unfaithful, it was who he was unfaithful with. The Countess arrived unseen by the audience in her Mercedes Benz. The car is imagined by May and the audience is given the description of it through her imagination. May emphasizes the car’s size and flashiness. The “huge black Mercedes Benz” is an expensive car and it represents the Countess’ power and monetary status. The glamorous car would stand out and look out of placed parked in front a cheap and dingy motel. The Countess is of the bourgeois class and May is of the preliterate. The Countess represents everything that May lacks. The Countess remains silent and unseen throughout the play. Her only noise is the Mercedes Benz horn blaring outside of the motel which is a powerful enough symbol because Eddie goes outside.
The Countess is silent throughout the play because this is a story about the lower class; the preliterate. The play’s focus is the tremulous and unhealthy relationship between Eddie and May. “Speech eventually has nothing more to tell us: we investigate the silence, for it is the silence that is doing the speaking” (Macherey 705). Eddie is silent regarding his adulterous behavior with the Countess but May as well as the audience know the truth.

Works Cited
Macherey, Pierre. “For a Theory of Literary Production.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998.
Shepard, Sam. “Fool for Love.” San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Kristin B at April 1, 2009 01:21 PM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
31 March 2009
Branching Out of the Family Tree through Dialectics
According to G.W.F. Hegel’s 1816 essay on “Dialectics” explains the way society continues to compromise on issues that are not universally accepted. An emphasis on societal acceptance is presented throughout Sam Shepard’s play Fool for Love. A case can certainly be made concerning the incest that takes place between siblings, Eddie and May. Eddie and May both acknowledge that their relationship is one that would typically be prohibited within society. However, the unordinary circumstances under which their relationship was formed present an element of complication that demands further examination.
Given the unusual circumstances surrounding the development of their relationship, it is necessary to consider Eddie and May’s perception. Eddie and May were not aware of their biological connection with each other prior to becoming romantically involved. Eddie reflects on the first encounter he has with May reiterating that “the second we saw each other, that very second, we knew we’d never stop loving each other”(Shepard 67). The reader cannot help but to sympathize with both Eddie and May considering that neither of them was aware of the connection that existed between the two. This injects the ideal that the system that defines their relationship as wrong must be re-evaluated from May and Eddie’s perspective.
Consider the two issues that are taking place. On one hand, it is clearly against society’s moral and ethical judgment to approve of May and Eddie’s relationship. On the other hand, it is not only fair but necessary to consider that Eddie and May’s relationship was well under way prior to ever knowing that the two of them were related. Hegel’s concept of dialectics comes into play because although, most individuals would naturally be disgusted by May and Eddie’s actions, how much can society really hold them accountable for. The system must be re-examined. It is obvious that May and Eddie’s commitment to continue to remain involved is wrong, given the fact that they are both now aware of that they are siblings; however, are they really responsible for who they fall in love with. Wouldn’t this be considered an uncontrollable emotion? If then, Hegel’s concept is applied prior to them being aware of their relations, it would be necessary to say that:
A.An individual cannot help who they fall in love with, therefore, Eddie and May have no control over the fact that they are siblings.
B.Once they became aware of their relationship, they attempt to stifle it, only to fall ill.
Given these two facts, the system or dialectic must be re-structured to allow acceptance for their past relationship considering both were unaware of their biological connections.
May is embarrassed by her relationship with Eddie. She does not want Martin to know. Eddie divulges the circumstances leading up to his involvement with May to Martin. May attempts to convince Martin that Eddie is lying stating that “None of its true, Martin. He’s had this weird, sick idea for years now and it’s totally made up” (Shepard 67).However, Martin does not seem to be disturbed given the fact that he is presented with the background details. Perhaps Martin’s reaction would have been different had Eddie simply stated that he and his sister were in love. However, the fact that Martin is informed of the circumstances leading up to May and Eddie’s relationship changes his opinion of what is socially acceptable. This is where Hegel’s dialectics takes place. The two opposite that are opposing each other, incest is wrong, but Eddie and May were unaware, must then be re-evaluated, in order to reach a mutual median. Is it right to blame Eddie and May for their actions? Hegel’s statement that “all opposition that are assumed fixed such as infinite and finite and universal and individual are not in contradiction with each other” are present through any attempts to understand May and Eddie’s relationship, given the nature of the circumstances that their relationship was developed under (Hegel 647).
Again, Hegel’s dialectics concept can be applied to May and Eddie’s situation because after finding out that they are brother and sister, they continue to remain romantically involved. The opposing issues under these circumstances are that, yes, Eddie and May are aware that they are related, yes, they know it is wrong, but they continue to remain involved, ignoring any moral acknowledgement. Under these circumstances, applying Hegel’s concept would be an attempt at justifying why they remain involved. Obviously they are aware of the moral implications and that they are related, but is that enough to stifle the emotions that they have developed for each other? Does it make a difference that they are aware of the fact that they are related? Was it acceptable when they had no ideal they were related? Who asserts that their relationship is socially unacceptable? Is it strictly an American belief or would it be socially accepted in say, England? All of these facts would have to be examined according to Hegel’s concept of dialectics.

Works Cited
Hegel, G.W.F. “Dialectics.” 1816. Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love. San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 1983. 67.

Posted by: Ava at April 1, 2009 07:23 PM

Liz H

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

April 7, 2009

A Fool for Love and Cultural Studies

While the idea of minorities suffering is not immediately present in the play, A Fool for Love, one can see obvious delineations of culture and time-period references, which help, explicate the idea of Cultural/Ethnic Studies.

One could especially examine the differing generations between the characters to show how he or she might use a word differently from another. The Old Man, father figure and ghost in the corner, has a definite speech pattern and train of thoughts that are separate from either Eddie or May. His presence is a constant guide interweaving the worlds of Eddie and May. His voice is something steady in the emotionally charged scenes. However, the fact that the Old Man only exists within their minds definitely emphasizes the reality that his generation has come and gone.

The world now belongs to Eddie, May, and their messy love affair. Eddie and May cannot separate themselves from the complicated drama of their past. Eddie continues to implore May to come out West with him and enjoy life on a little plot of land; but for May this idea is insufferable and constricting.

The final cultural note is regarding the implications of incest within Eddie and May’s relationship. A Fool for Love is rich in its diverse ways that one can see it from a Cultural Studies perspective.

Works Cited

Sheppard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Liz H at April 8, 2009 10:53 AM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435

Applying The Social Construction of Race to Fool For Love

Ian F. Haney Lopez wrote an article, The Social Construction of Race, in which he explains the idea that race is defined through humans versus biological means. In the play, Fool for Love, Lopez’s idea of Social construction can be both identified and supported.

The setting in Fool for Love is in the Midwest as the motel in which the action occurs located on the edge of the Mojave Dessert. Additionally, references to Southern Utah were made (p 36). From descriptions of May, Eddie, and Martin, readers realize that this story focuses on lower white class Midwest culture of the 1950’s. In support of Lopez theory, what defines a culture are the physical characteristics of their economic and social situations versus biological determination.

In his article, Lopez states that race affects every aspect of life (965). In Fool for Love, the characters were white and poor; thus, expectedly they did not own very much and were living in a trailer park and motel. Their job situation was also determined by their poor, white status. Eddie’s specific job is unclear but readers are led to believe that he works in the cattle industry. The other characters, May and Martin, are employed subsequently in the restaurant business and lawn maintenance. These low-income jobs are what many other poor, white citizens had, thus becoming a characteristic of this race.

To determine if Lopez’s theory that race is socially constructed is correct, one should imagine what would Fool for Love would be like if the characters were poor African-Americans. Because of their color, both job and housing conditions would be completely different. The story would be changed because as a different race, the situation is uniquely determined from social influences. Using this illustration is important because it demonstrates that race is constructed socially and affects all aspects of one’s life.

Lopez also states that race is plastic and unchanging (966). In demonstrating this in Fool for Love, readers must compare white culture of the 1950s to modern day time. Thus, what defines lower income white Midwest culture of modern day era? Today, many of the lower working class of the Midwest include Hispanics. Is this ethnic group then considered Caucasian? Further, has the definition of who is included in this race changed?

Understanding the social constructions in Fool for Love allows readers to validate Lopez’s article. Further, readers understand that race is defined through social situations and not through biological means. Reflecting on this can enlighten readers as one realizes that race is a changing structure; thus, new opportunities can arise for any race or class.

Works Cited
Lopez, Ian F. Haney. “The Social Construction of Race”. 2000. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 964-973.
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at April 8, 2009 12:41 PM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435

A Critical Understanding of the Desires and Relationships in Fool For Love

In 1983 Sam Shepard wrote Fool For Love, a play that is filled with love, raw emotion, and heated discussions. Featuring four major characters—May, Eddie, Martin, and Old Man, the plot of this play centers around May and Eddie’s complicated romantic relationship. Through using psychoanalytic criticism, gender studies, and reader response criticism, an educated understanding of this play can be obtained.

In 1900, Sigmund Freud authored The Interpretation of Dreams in which he explains his theory of human consciousness and how the unconscious is often expressed in form of dreams. (Rivkin 390-391). Proposing that the human psyche is split into different levels of consciousness, Freud named the unconscious id, further claiming that sexual desires, aggression, and other instincts are found here.

Applying Freud’s ideas to Fool For Love can help one understand Eddie’s character further. In the play, readers learn that in high school, Eddie and May were in a relationship; however, it is understood that he left May for a long time in which he had another love affair with a countess. At the time of the play, Eddie has just arrived back in town to see May, hoping for a renewal of their relationship. According to psychoanalytic theory, even though Eddie was psychically absent all those years, the desires of his id influenced his conscious decision to return 2,480 miles to profess his repressed love (Shepard 21). This desire to be in a relationship with May again surfaced from his unconsciousness and caused him end his relationship with the Countess and return to convince May to go back with him.

There is no doubt that Eddie loves May. Specifically, there are many instances in the text where he shows his affection. “You know we’re connected May. We’ll always be connected. That was decided a long time ago” (Shepherd 34). His desire for her in his mind was certain; thus, he used his male gender identity bestowed upon him by society to show his feelings. In one scene, he is roping bedposts during their continuing conversation. May asks him why he is trying to impress her. Eddie, still roping, replies, “Well. It’s just a little testimony of my love, see baby. I mean if I stopped trying to impress you, that’d mean it was all over, wouldn’t it?” (Shepherd 40). From a feminist perspective, gender is not a biological function but a factor determined by society (Rivkin 910). Further, gender is a crucial factor in forming one’s individual identity (Tyson 108). In the context of the play—California in the 1950’s, male white hierarchy influenced social perception of men. This identity along with patriarchal influence can be seen when Eddie says, “May, I’m trying to take care of you. All right?” (Shepherd 20). Fool for Love revolves around Eddie’s desire for a relationship with May, and readers can see that he uses his masculinity to help him woo May back.

Freud states in his article The Interpretation of Dreams, that dreams are translations of the unconscious and portray feelings that are unfit for real-life expression. Because it is socially unacceptable for Eddie to be in a relationship with May, his desire is expressed through his dream. This dream occurs on his drive back to see May, where he keeps seeing images of her (Shepherd 21). Specifically, Eddie tells May that during the ride sometimes he saw all of her and other times, just her neck. Interestingly, when he saw her neck, Eddie admitted that he would start crying uncontrollably. Because a neck links the head to the body, it can be concluded that Eddie dreamed about this specific part because of his longing to be reconnected and united with May.

Lacan is another psychoanalytic critic who made major contributions to psychoanalytic theory. According to Lacan, as children develop, they pass through different stages. After the mirror stage, Lacan states that children learn to accept their place in the symbolic order, where language defines social roles and what is considered proper behavior in society (Rivkin 393). Thus, it is at this stage where conflict arises in the play. It is socially unacceptable to have a romantic relationship with one’s sibling, which is what innocently occurred. In fact it is so shunned by society that May denies that any love ever existed between them. However, no matter what society tells them is acceptable; the love between them is present. Conflict arises when they have to decide whether to follow societal customs, repressing their feelings for each other buried in their id, or renew their relationship.

May’s desires are difficult to identify because she contradicts herself. On the one hand, when Eddie leaves (Shepherd 36,37) May starts hysterically crying; however, after he returns, she puts up her wall again and repeatedly tells him to go and that they cannot renew their relationship. Because she is struggling with her identity, she has difficulty in deciding what she really wants. She is afraid of being intimate with Eddie again because she does not want to get hurt. “It’ll be the same thing over again—we’ll be together for a while and then you’ll be gone” (Shepherd 45). Interestingly, according to Gilbert and Gubar in their book The Madwoman in the Attic, male writers have depicted women in literature to be ghost, fiend, angel, witch, and sprite of which both good and bad are depicted in one woman—death angel (Rivkin 818). Thus, May is depicted as both a lover and a traitor, as she was once Eddie’s lover but after his abandonment is now seeing another man. Again, the conflict of the book portrays the difficulty she faces whether to admit her repressed love for Eddie and overcome her fear of abandonment and betrayal or continue her relationship with Martin.

The old Man’s active role in the play is minimal; however, without him May and Eddie would have never come into existence as he is their father. His relationship with his children does not appear to be very strong. Perhaps this is because of his socially unaccepted marriages with their mother’s in the past. Burying his conscious guilt of deceiving two women he loved, he selectively remembers only parts of his life and has to be reminded of his actions with Eddie’s story (Shepherd 73). The old Man’s desires emerge from his id through his creation of an imaginary wife. “Well. See, now that’s the difference right there. That’s realism. I am actually married to Barbara Mandrell in my mind. Can you understand that?” (Shepherd 27). The old Man’s unconscious desire to have a socially accepted normal relationship and further ease his guilty conscious takes visual form in his mind, where he creates a reality to accept the situation he’s placed himself in. Because he is not able to maintain healthy relationships in life, he turns to dreams in order to live the life he desires. In fact, the play ends with the Old Man staring at the picture saying, “Ya’ see that? Ya’ know who that is? That’s the woman of my dreams. That’s who that is. And she’s mine. She’s all mine. Forever” (Shepherd 77).

The last speaking character of this play, Martin, is an easy-going, hard working, maintenance man who has been dating May. Their relationship appears innocent, and further, May appears to have the stronger voice in their relationship. Martin can be identified with having a positive male image—one who goes to work and takes women on dates to movies. His desires, however, are buried beneath his courteous disposition of allowing others to take precedence. Readers can see that May and Eddie use Martin to their advantage by making him pick sides of their argument and using him as a barrier between them. Overall, his good willed nature rewards him as he wins in the end with Eddie leaving again, giving him the opportunity to pursue his relationship with May.

Works Cited
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”. 1990. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 900-911.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Interpretation of Dreams”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 394-414.
Gilbert, Sandra, Gubar, Susan. “The Madwoman in the Attic”. 1980. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 812-825.
Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York/London: Routledge, 2006.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at April 22, 2009 11:03 AM

Liz H

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

April 19, 2009

Feminine Voice in Shepard’s A Fool for Love

In Sam Shepard’s A Fool for Love, women are misrepresented within the text quite poignantly when read from a feminist perspective. From the feminist perspective, how a woman is viewed is very important as a stereotype can essentially incapacitate a female character’s potential within the given work. Women, specifically May, are confined to subjugated roles as defined by the male influences around them. May, the lead female in A Fool for Love, is thrust into the role of the female archetype—one that is destined for male subjugation despite her best efforts to thwart the male inclinations that society upholds.

Particular emphasis supporting the feminist theory is the idea of traditional gender roles as found in A Fool for Love. Lois Tyson’s explanation of gender roles is particularly apt for A Fool for Love, she states that “traditional gender roles cast men as rational, strong, protective, and decisive; they cast women as emotional (irrational), weak nurturing and submissive” (85). May fits this stereotypical explanation quite well. She is, throughout the course of A Fool for Love, weak, irrational, and unhinged unless there is a male present who can offer some sort of emotional and physical stability.

One of the most poignant issues facing May is regarding the issue of identity. Who is May? Is she a love interest or a sister to Eddie? By not allowing May’s character to be a free woman, the play dilutes the power of the feminine voice. This is, instead, a story focused on men attempting to change May’s story to fit their liking. There is a violent undertone where May must decide who she is and what she wants out of life according to Dan Sullivan,
But she isn’t going. She’s had it with his lies and his fooling around with other women. She’s had it with 15 years of being messed over by him and by his fantasies, starting all the way back in high school. Forget it! Get out! But maybe she wants him to stay (265).
From an early impressionable age, at least for her developing sense of who she is as a woman, May has had to deal with pressure from Eddie. She has not had the opportunity to revel in her ability to be alone and enjoy it. “We get two versions of this—his and hers. Neither is true, probably, but each puts a hold on you while it is being told” (Sullivan 265). May’s version of events captivates us because of the emotional involvement Shepard inserts. Every woman has been a May to some extent. Eddie’s extreme grip on May’s life is especially evident in the following passage:
I’m not leavin’. I don’t care what you think anymore. I don’t care what you feel. None a’ that matters. I’m not leavin’. I’m stayin’ right here. I don’t care if a hundred “dates” walk through that door –I’ll take every one of ‘em on. I don’t care if you hate my guts. I don’t care if you can’t stand the sight of me or the sound of me or the smell of me. I’m never leavin’. You’ll never get rid of me. You’ll never escape me either (Shepard 25).

While there are other women mentioned in the course of the play, May is the one where feminist’s place their hopes. While a mother figure is briefly mentioned, she does not materialize like the Old Man. The mother cannot produce her own flashbacks to explain or deny the validity of the story presented. Sam Shepard’s decision to exclude her further proves his intentions to ignore the importance of women within his play. Although there is another female love interest for Eddie in the person of the Countess, she does not figure prominently into the play, either. By allowing the Countess to only be discussed because of the shadowy glances of the headlights that fill the hotel room, Shepard is removing her from the circle of judgment within the narrative. One cannot judge what one cannot see. She can then be prideful, vindictive, and more masculine because she does not have to fulfill female expectations within the world of the play. The Countess’ presence further contributes to May’s weakening grasp on the world around her. The focus on the woman of May reveals the flaws of Shepard’s characterization of women.

May has difficulty owning her own identity outside of the sphere of male authority. When first introduced to May, she is insecure and desperate over the possibility of Eddie cheating on her, but also because of the very real threat of being left alone. She states, “You’re going to have to erase me or have me erased” (Shepard 9). According to Lois Tyson, “a woman who has internalized the norms and values of patriarchy” is a woman dealing with the challenge at the crux of the feminist cause (85). The idea of erasure is huge. Who has the power to dictate the lives of women within the play?

The men around May have very different ideas of how to deal with her. Eddie tries to keep May contained because he returns for her; he makes it so she cannot leave or change her life from the course he has decided for her. The idea of indecision is huge. May is living her life inside of a hotel, a temporary residence, because the outside world is so difficult to deal with when you don’t know who you are. Martin, in a way, is controlling because he wants to placate May; it is a more veiled threat than Eddie’s physical actions. For critic Douglass Watt, Eddie and May’s inability to separate is huge, and he states, “The wild behavior…appears senseless for a spell. The two combatants, as together and as apart as any two people can be, seem inexplicable” (266). Their behavior is primal, especially because of Shepard’s inability to allow May to be an independent woman outside of Eddie’s grasp.

The text and life of May truly opens up under the guise of Feminist theory. Suddenly, a woman is not just a woman, rather May is a character for all women to relate to. Shepard’s ability to portray May in such strongly reactive terms transforms the play into something universally significant.

Works Cited

Shepard, Sam. Fool for Love and the Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His
Wife. New York: City Lights Books, 1983.

Sullivan, Dan. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 34. Detroit:
Gale Research, 1985. 265.

Tyson, Lois. "Feminist Criticism." Critical Theory Today. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge,
2006. 83-131.

Watt, Douglas. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 34. Detroit:
Gale Research, 1985. 266.

Posted by: Liz H at April 22, 2009 03:21 PM

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