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August: Osage County | Study Guide

Tracy Letts

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August: Osage County | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary



It is Thursday, and the setting is the dining room. Violet tells Barbara and Bill about Beverly's disappearance. He left on a Saturday morning, walking out the door after breakfast without a word. By Sunday, Violet was feeling worried, and on Monday she went to empty their safety deposit box. She reveals she and Beverly had "an arrangement." If something happened to one of them, "the other one would go and empty that safety deposit box." Barbara wonders why Violet didn't have Ivy call her until "Five days later."

Bill asks whether there was "some event ... some incident" that precipitated Beverly's disappearance. Violet says no, and then she admits Beverly did one unusual thing recently: he hired Johnna, whom Violet refers to as "this woman" and "an Indian." Barbara points out Violet should say "Native American" rather than "Indian." In retaliation Violet gets in a shot about how Barbara will soon abandon her again, "never to return." She says Barbara was Beverly's favorite and she broke his heart when she left Oklahoma.

"Are you high?" Barbara asks Violet point blank. Violet denies it. "I will not go through this with you again," Barbara says, reminding Violet of a previous stay in the "psych ward." Violet weeps for herself, saying, "I'm in pain." She also bitterly points out that Barbara didn't come back to take care of her when she got cancer, "but as soon as Beverly disappeared you rushed back." Barbara apologizes to Violet.

In the attic, Jean and Johnna talk. Jean asks Johnna, "Do you mind if I smoke a bowl?" Johnna agrees, reluctantly, but declines to get high herself. Jean says her father is okay with her getting high but her mother isn't. She also reveals her parents are separated. Bill is having an affair with a student, "which is pretty uncool if you ask me." Jean asks Johnna about her parents. Johnna says they're dead. Johnna is reading the T.S. Eliot book that Beverly loaned her. Jean admires Johnna's necklace, which turns out to be a pouch holding her dried umbilical cord. Jean is repelled, but Johnna explains it's a Cheyenne tradition. If they lose their pouch, their "souls belong nowhere."


This scene establishes a timeline for Beverly's disappearance while also deepening its mystery, which turns out to be one of Beverly's enduring traits. As Barbara comments, Beverly was and is "Good old unfathomable Dad," while Violet admits she initially loved his "mystery." Though Beverly is absent for most of this play, it turns out he has been, in some sense, absent all along.

However some of the mystery surrounding Beverly's disappearance will turn out to have been manufactured. Although Violet tells Bill and Barbara that Beverly simply walked away without a word on Saturday morning, in the play's final scene she reveals he left a note. Violet is only partly truthful about Beverly's disappearance. When Bill asks if he did anything unusual before leaving, Violet at first says no, but then she realizes that he hired Johnna. This is insightful of Violet. During the job interview in the Prologue, Beverly tells Johnna that Violet will need to be driven to Tulsa for her "final chemotherapy treatments." He may have been trying to make up for abandoning his gravely ill wife by arranging for her medical treatment. There is also an ominous ring to the word "final," even though chemotherapy infusions are given in a specified number of sessions. Violet was there during that part of the interview. This raises the possibility that she witnessed some of Beverly's preparations for his own death, though she may not have realized it.

But Violet seems to know something she does not let on. Her behavior around the safety deposit box is peculiar. She says, in her slurring, drug-addled way, that she and Beverly had "a urge-ment ... arrangement." The arrangement is that if "something happens" to one of them, the other will empty the safety deposit box of its cash and jewelry. Barbara is alert to how strange this is, but Bill deflects by focusing on the technical details of getting an estate tangled in probate court. Neither Bill nor Violet openly admits that talking about probate means talking about Beverly as if he were dead.

Meanwhile, Jean reveals she, too, is into the Weston family tradition of using substances to escape or cope with pain. She asks Johnna if she wants to "smoke a bowl" with her. Johnna is 26 and Jean is 14, so offering marijuana is Jean's way of soliciting the attention of adults and acting like she, too, is one. She has a teenager's view of adulthood: a utopia in which grownups indulge nonstop in the pleasures denied to children. Johnna isn't interested in this, but later Jean will find an adult who is, the 50-year old Steve, with disastrous consequences.

The conversation with Johnna also reveals something about her family. Her parents are dead, but she keeps them in remembrance. There is a picture of them in her room—which Jean bumptiously praises for "costumes" which are "fantastic." Presumably Jean is referring to their Native American dress. Johnna also reveals a Cheyenne custom which keeps her connected to her family. The necklace or pouch she wears contains her "dried umbilical cord," symbolically connecting her to mother and the rest of the family. Without it, Johnna says, she would be rootless and disconnected. The question for the audience is whether this means Johnna's family is different than the "octopus tank" described by Robert Penn Warren in the play's epigraph. Perhaps a cord keeps pulling the Weston sisters back to Osage County. Or perhaps they are, as Johnna would be if she lost her necklace, lost souls that "belong nowhere."

This scene also introduces the theme of pain. Violet says aloud, "I'm in pain," referring to the physical pain of cancer. However, she also has emotional and psychological pain, and that is a major theme in this play–suffering trauma, having pain, and inflicting it on others.

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