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August: Osage County | Study Guide

Tracy Letts

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Course Hero. "August: Osage County Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Dec. 2019. Web. 29 Jan. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/August-Osage-County/>.

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Course Hero. (2019, December 1). August: Osage County Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/August-Osage-County/

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Course Hero. "August: Osage County Study Guide." December 1, 2019. Accessed January 29, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/August-Osage-County/.

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Course Hero, "August: Osage County Study Guide," December 1, 2019, accessed January 29, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/August-Osage-County/.

August: Osage County | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The shades have been removed from the windows. It is nighttime. Barbara, Ivy, and Karen talk in the study, drinking whiskey. Charlie, Mattie Fae, Jean, and Steve play cards in the dining room. Little Charles is by himself in the living room. Bill is on the porch, going over paperwork. Violet is upstairs.

The sisters talk about Violet's drug use. Ivy and Barbara reveal Violet got prescriptions from several doctors, threatening them with loss of their licenses if they balked. Now with her sisters, Barbara scoffs about Violet belonging to "the Greatest Generation," the one that reached young adulthood during World War II. She recalls another addiction crisis years ago, when Violet smuggled pills into rehab by hiding them in her vagina.

Barbara asks Ivy if she is in a relationship with Little Charles, but Ivy won't say. Barbara points out, facetiously, that they shouldn't have children since they're cousins. Ivy reveals that she can't have children. Beside the fact that she is now in her 40s and unlikely to conceive a child, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer a year ago and had a hysterectomy. The only person she told was Little Charles, and "that's where it started between him and me." Barbara and Karen wonder why Ivy didn't tell them, but Ivy is skeptical of "these myths of sisterhood." She says they are connected by nothing but "genetics, a random selection of cells." Barbara is shocked by Ivy's cynicism. Ivy says maybe her cynicism came from getting stuck caring for their parents while Barbara and Karen swanned off to live their own lives far away. When she leaves she "won't feel any more guilty than you two did." She and Charles plan to move to New York City.

Barbara asks Ivy, "What about Mom?" Ivy throws the question back: "What about her?" Barbara has no idea what it's like, Ivy says, because Barbara is Violet's favorite. Barbara thinks she was her father's favorite, but Ivy says it's not so. It was Violet who was heartbroken when Barbara moved away. Then the sisters discuss their father's suicide. Beverly "killed himself for his own reasons," says Ivy, and he's probably "better off now." Barbara is furious with Beverly. "He could have talked to us," she says. Ivy replies, skeptically, that Barbara might not have liked what Beverly told her. "What if the truth of the matter is Beverly never liked you ... or any of us?" Ivy asks. She says she is leaving for New York soon, and Barbara is welcome to stay in Oklahoma if she's so worried about Violet.

Violet enters, apparently sober, and talks about the "warm feeling" she gets from hearing their voices in her home. Then tells a story about cowboy boots she wanted as a young teenager. Her mother wrapped up a box the size of a boot box and put it under the Christmas tree to make Violet think she was going to get her coveted gift, but on Christmas Day Violet opened the present only to find an old pair of men's work boots, "caked in mud and dogshit." Her mother laughed about it "for days." After hearing this Barbara tells her sisters she needs to speak to Violet alone. The two apologize to each other about the fight at dinner, and they agree to a truce. Barbara asks Violet if she needs to go to a rehab center, but Violet says she can quit pills by herself.

Ivy joins Little Charles in the living room in front of the TV. He asks her if she's mad at him for almost revealing their secret, but she isn't. Little Charles goes to the piano and Ivy sits by him on the bench. He plays Ivy a song he wrote about her. When Mattie Fae and Charlie enter, Mattie Fae sarcastically calls Little Charles "Liberace." She then mocks Little Charles more by saying that if only there were a job where he could be paid to watch TV. Barbara almost enters the room but, hearing the fight, hovers nearby.

Charlie orders the "kids" to go outside and then he blows up at Mattie Fae. He says he cannot understand "this meanness" in Mattie Fae and Violet. He reminds her, "We buried a man today, a man I loved very much." In honor of Beverly's memory, Mattie Fae should lay off. They have been married 38 years but if she doesn't "find a generous place in [her] heart" for Little Charlies, they "won't make it to thirty-nine." He leaves the room.

Mattie Fae becomes aware of Barbara, who apologizes for eavesdropping. Mattie Fae asks Barbara if something is going on between Ivy and Little Charles. Barbara tries to avoid answering, out of loyalty to Ivy, but then she says yes. Mattie Fae says, "That can't happen." Barbara tries to downplay how "unorthodox" it is for first cousins to be in a relationship. Mattie Fae tells her they're not cousins. "He's your father's child," she says, "which means that he is Ivy's brother (half-brother)." Mattie Fae and Beverly had an affair. Beverly knew he was Little Charles's father, but Charlie doesn't suspect anything. Only Mattie Fae, and now Barbara, know the secret, and Mattie Fae puts it to Barbara to break up Little Charles and Ivy. Barbara protests being saddled with the task. "You said you were running things," Mattie Fae points out.

Analysis

Violet is not actually a member of the "Greatest Generation," a term coined by newscaster Tom Brokaw to describe people who were young adults during World War II. Violet is 65 years old in 2007, so she would have been just three or so years old at the close of the war. Nonetheless, the term fits the occasion in several senses. The Greatest Generation refers to older people, now dying out, who made tremendous sacrifices during the war. When Barbara punctures the solemnity of the phrase "Greatest Generation," she is also puncturing the solemnity of Violet's terrible sacrifices—all her talk of poverty and cruel suffering. The term Greatest Generation also fits because Barbara is making jokes about her mother's vagina, referring to Violet's pill smuggling. Violet is literally Barbara and her sisters' "generator" or "engenderer." But now, in Barbara's jokey anecdote about rehab, all Violet gives birth to—all she "generates"—are prescription pills. Far from being the greatest generator, Violet has sunk to the level of a joke in Barbara's and her sisters' eyes.

This scene poses the question of whether any members of the Weston family can join together and make common cause. Shared suffering provides the Weston sisters with a bond as they joke about their mother and her pills, but this connection is limited. As Ivy sees all too well, Barbara, Karen, and now even Ivy, herself, are committed to lives far away from Oklahoma. Karen has sentimental illusions about the sisters' bond, but Ivy sees through the myths of sisterhood because she has borne the brunt of the every-sister-for-herself reality of family life. The scene with Ivy and Little Charles also raises question of family members joining together to escape the pain of the Weston family. Ivy and Little Charles share a tender moment at the piano. But Mattie Fae punctures the mood, even sneeringly referring to Little Charles as Liberace, a gay entertainer famous for his flamboyant costumes. Precisely in the moment Little Charles is engaged in romance, Mattie Fae disrupts and insults him. This foreshadows what will happen to Ivy and Little Charles' relationship: Mattie Fae's truth will break them up.

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