A theme that seemed very common in Shepard's play was the sheer bad luck and so-called "curse" of the Tate family. This Californian farm family composed of a drunk father (Weston), a son and daughter (Wesley and Emma), and an unforgiving mother (Ella) go through struggles that become more escalated as each ego begins to grow, leading to the demise of Emma, and in turn the whole family.
The "family curse" is apparent from the beginning. Wesley, the oldest and only son, has a brief conversation with the mother, Ella, over Weston's drunk episode the night before. It was one of concern, and Wesley feels "lonely" and sees Ella calling the cops, "humiliating" the family.
When Ella gives Wesley news about selling the farm to her "lawyer friend" and moving to Europe, Wesley is almost infuriated, knowing that he takes care of the livestock and horses and tends to the home more than any of the family members. Wesley is the only Tate that really does care about the home they live in, and at times, shows real concern for the family members around him.
Emma, the younger sibling and only daughter, has aspirations of moving out of the house and is the rebel of the home. She's very brash, selfish, and almost uncontrollable, just like Weston. She threatens to leave the family by taking the Horse out of town due to lack of "consideration" that the family has for her things — Wesley pissing on Emma's chicken project, for example.
Emma later in act two gets arrested for vandalizing Alibi's Club (owned by the character Ellis) because she felt the life of crime made a quick profit and was deemed "the perfect self-employment" as explained in the middle of act two, her final words before her death. Her devious ways indeed made her pay when the Packard exploded at the end of the play.
The parents, Ella and Weston, are the most responsible for the curse set upon this family. Although they are in different stages mentally, Weston being drunk for most of the play and Ella being sober, the mistakes are very similar. They both try and sell the farmland to con-men. Taylor, a lawyer, conned Weston into buying the desert land and Ella figured she had beaten Weston into selling the home and could have filled Taylor's pocket even more.
Weston was in huge debt due to his alcohol and low-end job, so making foolish deals was detrimental to the Tate family. Ellis, the owner of the Alibi Club, also made a deal with Weston, giving Ellis the deed to the farm with $1500. However, when Taylor enters the home, Ellis believes that Weston didn't stick to his word and runs away with the cash and the house deed. This leads to the death of Emma, when two of Ellis's accomplices, Slater and Emerson, bomb Weston's Packard, the car Emma was supposed to take to leave the family.