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August: Osage County | Study Guide

Tracy Letts

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August: Osage County | Act 2 | Summary



It is three o'clock in the afternoon, three days after Act 1, Scene 4. The family has just come back from Beverly's funeral and is preparing to eat dinner. The house has been cleaned up and tables are set for dinner. Violet stands alone in the study, apparently addressing Beverly: "August ... your month." She swallows a pill, saying, "one for me." She picks up her late husband's most famous book of poems, Meadowlark, and reads the dedication: "Dedicated to my Violet." She drops the book, apparently in scorn. "You made your choice. You made this happen," she tells the absent Beverly.

Barbara and Karen talk in the dining room. Barbara barely gets a word in while Karen natters excitedly about herself. She says she now sees everything is about "the present." Then she recounts all the mistakes she made before she had this insight about the present. She also talks about her fiancé, Steve, and their honeymoon plans in Belize and asks about whether Barbara will come to her wedding in Miami on New Year's.

While Barbara and Karen go to the kitchen, upstairs Violet, Mattie Fae, and Ivy look through old photographs. Mattie Fae is wearing a black dress; Ivy, a black suit. Violet needles Ivy about her fashion choices. She says Ivy won't be able to attract a man. Ivy retorts that she has a man, but then she refuses to say who it is. Meanwhile, Mattie Fae remarks Little Charles has been talking about moving to New York. She comments on how unfit Little Charles is for city life, and for life in general. He slept through his grandfather's funeral. At age 37, he still doesn't know how to drive. "I've seen a chimp drive," Mattie Fae says in disgust. Violet talks about "downsizing" and tries to give away her clothes and furniture.

Downstairs, Ivy rushes inside and turns on the TV. Bill and Steve follow, carrying groceries. Steve talks about his business dealings, which involve offshore accounts, "Florida politics," and "the situation in the Middle East." He says, "It's essentially security work." When Bill asks if that means being a mercenary, Steve doesn't answer. Barbara enters and asks Jean if she rushed home to watch TV. Jean is watching The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Bill talks to Jean about the movie knowledgeably, like a film buff, while Barbara criticizes Jean for wanting to rush home to watch TV on the day of the funeral.

Barbara and Bill leave Jean and Steve alone in the living room watching TV. Steve hits on Jean who lies about her age, saying she is 15. He talks about pot and makes lewd comments to Ivy. Karen enters and asks Steve for cigarettes, but he forgot to buy them. Jean offers Karen her cigarettes. Karen and Steve then snuggle on the couch, speaking to each other in baby talk. Karen leaves. Before Steve follows, he pauses. He rubs his hand over Jean's face and promises to "hook you up later."

Outside, Charlie and Little Charles arrive and pause on the porch. "I know Mom's mad at me," says Little Charles, referring to his having overslept and missed the funeral. He also fears Beverly must be disappointed in him. Charlie does his best to reassure Little Charles, extolling Beverly's kindness. Little Charles starts to weep. Charles reassures him some more, tells him to comb his hair, and gives him a handkerchief. Before they go inside they tell each other they love each other.

In the dining room, Barbara and Bill argue about Jean and about Bill's parenting. Bill says Barbara is thoughtful and passionate but she is "not open" and she is "hard." He also says she is "a good, decent, funny, wonderful woman" whom he loves. He concludes that she is "a pain in the ass."

Dinner begins. The dialogue is given in three parallel columns on the page as the family members speak simultaneously. Initially the conversation is innocuous chit-chat. Little Charles goes out to bring in Mattie Fae's casserole, which he had forgotten. Ivy and Little Charles steal a kiss on the porch. She tells him that she told the family she has a man but didn't say who. He says he told the family he's moving to New York but hasn't mentioned he's going there with her. Little Charles says, "I adore you" to Ivy.

Back in the dining room, dinner is underway. Little Charles enters and drops the casserole on the floor. Mattie Fae yells at him and Charlie tries to smooth things over. Jean refuses the chicken, saying she doesn't eat meat. Violet enters, and she lights into the family members, starting with an icy remark about the men having removed their suit coats. "I thought we were having a funeral dinner, not a cockfight," she says. The men put on their coats again. Violet asks Barbara to say grace. Barbara replies that Charlie, now "the patriarch around here," should say it. Charlie delivers a long, rambling blessing. Violet offers Barbara the sideboard. "I'm getting rid of a lot of stuff," she explains. Barbara demurs, trying not to get into this discussion at the funeral dinner.

Charles asks Jean why she doesn't eat meat. She tells him, "When you eat meat, you ingest an animal's fear." Jean talks earnestly about the chemical and spiritual ramifications of vegetarianism while Charlie and other family members snigger. Violet remembers a phrase from a commercial, "Where's the meat?" The tagline is about beef, Karen corrects her. In retaliation, Violet screeches her version of the phrase over and over. The rest of the family is momentarily stunned into silence. Then they start talking about the funeral.

Most of the family members compliment the service, but Violet complains there was too much emphasis on Beverly as a poet and professor. Wickedly, she says the eulogy didn't account for the fact he hated teaching and hadn't written any poetry to speak of since 1965. She then says he was a "world-class alcoholic" who once "fouled himself" while speaking before an audience, drunk, at an alumni dinner. She concludes her cruel anecdote by laughing. When Steve tells Bill how well he read Beverly's poems at the funeral, Violet abruptly asks him, "Who are you?" Violet then grills Steve, getting him to admit he has already been married three times. "I had that one pegged," Violet says, proud of herself.

A stray remark about "cowboys and Native Americans " leads Violet into a dig at political correctness. Barbara asks Violet what pills she is on. Charlie suddenly seems to be in the throes of a fit. But he is play-acting. "I just got a big bite of fear!" he announces, teasing Jean again. Everyone joins in, eager to focus on Jean; Barbara also joins in, claiming Jean sometimes sneaks hamburgers. When Jean calls Barbara a liar, Violet goes on the attack, saying her own mother would have "knocked my goddamn head off" for talking that way.

The subject changes to Beverly's papers. Violet asks Bill what he has found in Beverly's office. Bill tries to talk about Beverly's poetry manuscripts, but Violet starts in about the will. She says the will he wrote leaves everything to his three daughters. However, Violet claims, he really meant to change the will and leave all his money to her. One by one the daughters all assent. Then Violet offers to sell her daughter some furniture, as if in compensation for the hijacked inheritance. Barbara points out they could just wait for her to die, "and then we can just have (the furniture) for free." Violet then offers Bill the sideboard, asking, "Where are you living now, Bill?" She presses Bill until he admits he and Barbara are separated. "Nobody slips anything by me," Violet says, triumphant. She also guesses, correctly, that there is a younger woman involved in the break-up of the marriage.

Some family members push back against Violet's viciousness. Barbara reminds Violet that she identified her "father's corpse" only three days ago, and now she has to hear Violet "viciously attack" the family. Violet increases her aggression, standing up and launching into a tirade about what an attack really is. She says Mattie Fae once came to her rescue when one of their mother's "gentleman friends" attacked Violet with a claw hammer. Violet then asks her daughters if they know where Beverly lived from ages four to ten. "In a Pontiac sedan," Violet says, revealing Beverly and his parents had been homeless. She rants about the sacrifices she and Beverly made and how her daughters understand nothing about "real problems." She adds it's "time we had some truths told round here."

Little Charles says, "I have a truth." Ivy begs him not to say anything. Little Charles thinks the better of it and weakly announces that he didn't sleep through the alarm; in fact, he forgot to set it at all. He then walks out to the porch. Mattie Fae says, "I gave up (on Little Charles) a long time ago," and she tells her husband their son is "your project now." Ivy quietly says that his name is Charles, not Little Charles. Violet says Ivy has "always had a feeling for the underdog." Ivy, fearing an attack, begs Violet not to be mean. Violet says she is only telling the truth. Barbara tells her, "You're a drug addict."

Taking a new tack, Violet proudly agrees she is an addict. She holds up a bottle of pills, claiming they are her best friends. Enraged, Barbara lunges at her and they wrestle. Others enter the fray, trying to separate them. When the physical fight finally ends, Barbara yells at Violet to shut up. She tells the family they are going to hold a "pill raid," finding and disposing of all Violet's pills. When Violet protests, Barbara shouts, "I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW!"


At this point in the play, Beverly's body has been found. However Violet's repeated questions, however demented they may sound, may actually refer to his death, to his absence, or to the obscure and unwitnessed moment of his death. "Where's the meat?!" Violet shrieks again and again. The "meat"—Beverly's body—is in the ground, and the funeral is meant to commemorate that fact and say farewell to Beverly. Violet's unhinged repetition of the question may indicate she cannot deal with Beverly's death.

This entire act-long scene revolves around truth, one of the play's themes. Characters in this scene flout convention in order to speak the unvarnished truth. Matti Fae admits she has lost interest in the "project" of her and Charlie's son, though parents are usually bound by custom to at least pretend to love their children. Barbara tells Violet the truth: "You're a drug addict." Even Charlie tries to get in on the truth-telling, though his courage fails him. Violet positions herself as the greatest truth-teller, launching one weaponized truth after another. But she is lying by omission throughout this scene, though audience members won't realize that until later in the play. She claims to tell the truth about Beverly, wickedly disparaging his reputation and laughing about his humiliation. However, the truth is that she knew where Beverly was during part of his disappearance, that he left her a note, and that she did not call him for two days. Violet could have reached out to her suicidal husband and did not, but this is a truth she skips over.

Karen, in relentlessly narrating her own life, is trying to re-invent the truth. Although she claims to have changed her life with her discovery of how to live in the present, this is clearly false. She talks nonstop about her past, reviewing all the mistakes she made before learning to live in the present, and she also talks about the future, projecting a perfect life for herself with Steve in Miami. As a later scene reveals, Karen was neither her mother's nor her father's favorite. The neglected child, she puffs herself up, constantly trying to gain attention.

The Weston family reveals itself as a system in which the strong weaponize the truth—or at least each member's personal version of the truth—to attack the weak. Violet heaps scorn on Ivy, and Matti Fae does the same to Little Charles. Everyone joins in the teasing of Jean, although they do this in the belief that it is harmless. Jean's attempts to establish her autonomy through rejecting eating meat strike the family members as small, harmless, and comical. Everyone piles on Jean because they think this piling-on does not hurt, unlike the slashing and cutting that is going on between the adults. In a way Barbara upends the Weston family system, or at least climbs to the top of it, when she declares, "I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW!" Although making herself into the head of the family would seem to make her the most adult of the adults, her cry is a desperate one. Only a child oppressed in a the family system could so desperately need to claim control of her life by claiming control of her family.

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