Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Stanton B. Garner, Jr

Committee Members

Charles J. Maland, Thomas F. Haddox, Klaus van den Berg


From one of his earliest plays—Rock Garden (1964)to one of his most recent works—The Late Henry Moss (2000)—Sam Shepard has been fascinated by the American family. Shepard, this dissertation argues, presents a markedly “gothic” portrait of the American family by borrowing dramatic techniques from the “gothic” literary tradition in order to critique traditional American myths about the family—including the belief that a type of social harmony, even utopia, will result if each family member adheres strictly to his or her prescribed role within the family unit. Shepard’s critique of the American family is in many ways a critique of modern American culture, though Shepard himself balks at being called a social critic, insisting he is much more interested in highly charged emotional and psychic states of individual characters. Using gothic techniques—including uncanny moments, incest, ghosts, and doppelgängers—Shepard engages in subtle cultural critique without seeming programmatic or didactic.

The American gothic family is comprised of identifiable character types: the fallen father, the alienated mother, and the haunted son. These recur in Shepard’s gothic family plays, as well as in the gothic family plays of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. In examining Shepard’s gothic families, this dissertation employs a psychological methodology, including an examination of how attempts to repress traumatic memories ultimately fail, resulting in a gothic “return” of the repressed past.

The examination of Shepard’s “family plays” focuses on five major worksCurse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind—as well as two relatively “minor” plays: The Holy Ghostly, States of Shock. A final chapter examines The Late Henry Moss, the latest installment in Shepard’s “gothic” project.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."