Buried Child: A Family Haunted by Hidden Loss






Buried Child

A reader from the Washington DC area shares:

I browsed your archives after reading about Morgentaller and read your post on Hostel, Jung, and repressed trauma and art. Have you ever
heard of a play called “Buried Child” by Sam Shepard? It won a
Pulitzer prize in 1979.

Wikipedia says the play depicts “the fragmentation of the American nuclear
family in a context of disappointment and disillusionment with American
mythology and the American dream, the 1970s rural economic slowdown and the
breakdown of traditional family structures and values.” But Wikipedia says
nothing about the abortion theme that runs through the play.

This line in your Hostel post made me think of “Buried Child”:
“This pain and grief lies buried deeply in the collective unconscious of
our culture, where it is forbidden expression. The effects of the abortion procedure
on the unborn, and the trauma unleashed upon all who participate in the death
of the unborn remain largely hidden from public view.”

In “Buried Child,” the audience is never explicitly told what exactly
happened to the buried child–who clearly haunts each family member–so over
the course of the play, the audience gets this increasing sense of something
horrible that happened in the past which seems central to all of the family’s
present problems but which also can’t be openly discussed. I think this shows
Sam Shepard’s skill as a playwright — he keeps the death of the unborn and the
associated trauma “largely hidden from public view” and uses the
terrible tension this causes beneath the surface to drive the whole play and
keep the audience in suspense aka not at peace. It seems like a realistic depiction
of what you called the “fallout from abortion over time.”

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