A Lie Of The Mind Summary

Sam Shepard

A Lie Of The Mind

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A Lie Of The Mind Summary

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A Lie of the Mind is a play by Sam Shepard that premiered at the off-Broadway Promenade Theater in New York City in 1985. The work is often considered the conclusion of what began as Shepard’s Family Trilogy, which consisted of Curse of the Starving Class in 1976, Buried Child in 1979, and 1980’s True West. Prior to A Lie of the Mind, Fool for Love in 1983 continued what ultimately became a quintet of plays.

Lie of the Mind concerns two families who are connected by the marriage of Jake, the son of one family, to Beth who is the daughter of the other. Connections are tentative, with sibling relationships appearing to be the most stable bond. However, rivalries and pain make siblings bonds precarious as well.  Two brothers are attempting to speak with each other via a bad telephone connection. Frankie has received a call from his brother Jake. Jake is calling from a phone booth on a highway and tells Frankie that he has killed his wife. Jake says it happened in a violent rage that he did not expect, as he had not ha such an outburst of temper in a long time. His wife, however, is not dead. Beth has suffered brain damage as a result of the attack and is being tended to by her parents, Bayor and Meg. Later, Jake wants to win Beth back, but by this time, Frankie has fallen in love with her.

Beth’s brother Mike asks her how she can love someone who has attempted to kill her. She tells him simply that, “He’s my heart.” Mike is determined to make sure that Beth has nothing to do with Jake or Frankie. When Mike assists Beth with her rehbilitation—trying to walk and talk—it is symbolic of his attempt to help her get her life back. Jake, meanwhile, recalls his sister Sally being sexually abused by their father. Sally remembers the death of their father, which was a result of Jake’s violence. In the play, parents hold outdated views of their families’ conditions. Jake’s mother says that her husband was not a hero, as she sits with his ashes, war medals, and the flag from his coffin. These objects are the legacy of a manhood never fulfilled, one she lays at the feet of her son.

Similar to other plays by Shepard, A Lie of the Mind examines the role of manhood in America and the connections, real or perceived, between national and gender identities. Also given attention are the difficulties that women face. Women are shown as the keepers and conduits of cultural history, as well as frequent victims in society. His female characters are not necessarily people who passively accept their destinies, but the male characters are clearly more responsible for the violence that seems to engulf people in his work. In this play, men recklessly seek freedom and women become introverts swimming in an inner world of dreams. Characters fail to make significant connections with each other as a result of abandonment and violence. Memories, like relationships, seem nonexistent.

The play ends with Frankie surviving wounds suffered at the hands of his father and returning to the vulnerable, even feminine, position he had held in the world. Beth seems to have been altered permanently and not able to find the strong side of herself. Sally, Jake’s sister, frees herself from her male dominated family and sets a house on fire with her mother. The maternal and paternal pasts and legacies of families become entangled. Characters seem to wander with no destination in sight, and no place to which they can return.

Variety said of the play, “The set provides physical evidence of the inescapable insidiousness of family-the oppressive weight of the past that bears down on the present and future. These people are sons doomed to become their hated fathers; rivalrous siblings riven into good and bad selves; helpless, hopeless men who leave or die or just shut down; and blame-hurling women, addicted to victimhood yet unable to relinquish their belief in the tenuous salvation of love. The understanding that love is possibly the sole truth in the cluttered landscape of the mind is more pathological than consolatory…It’s classic Shepard that, as twisted or torn as they may be, the ties still bind. And nowhere do they bind more unbreakably than between Jake and Beth. Even when they’re in different states, Jake remains transfixed by sightings of her across the vast mental landscape of the stage. ‘I’m gonna die without her,’ he whimpers. And in her delirious ravings, when she’s unsure if she’s dead or alive, Beth still reaffirms her connection to him: ‘Heez in me. You gan stop him in me. Nobody gan stop him in me.’”