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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. 30 Jan. 2023. <>.

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August: Osage County | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



It is later the same night. Karen is asleep in the living room and Bill is asleep in the study.

Scantily dressed, Jean and Steve smoke pot together in the dining room. Steve takes every opportunity to make lewd comments. He fondles Jean's breasts, and Jean resists. But they continue flirting as Steve asks Jean about her sexual experiences. Jean says she is not a virgin, "not technically." Steve, emboldened, turns off the light. There is a sound of moaning. The light comes back on. Johnna has entered, carrying a cast-iron frying pan. She hits Steve on the head.

Everyone else in the house wakes up. Karen comes in and rushes to Steve's side, asking him what happened. Johnna says, "He was messing with Jean." Bill and Barbara come in, and Johnna tells them what happened. Barbara tries to physically attack Steve. "I'll murder you!" she shouts. Steve says he did nothing wrong. Karen and Steve leave the room and start packing to go.

Barbara and Bill ask Jean to tell them what happened, but she says it was "nothing." Barbara presses her, but Jean keeps minimizing it. "What's the big deal?" she shrugs. When Bill says the big deal is her age, 14, Jean says "Just a few years younger than you like 'em." Barbara slaps Jean, and they both yell that they hate each other. Jean runs from the room, Bill follows her, and then Johnna also leaves.

In the living room, Karen talks to Barbara while she gets ready to leave. She casts aspersions on Jean, talking in a seemingly circular or illogical way: "I'm not blaming her. Just because I've said she's not blameless." She continues, saying that Steve isn't perfect and that she too has done things she is not proud of. She concludes by reminding Barbara, "Come January ... I'll be in Belize. Doesn't that sound perfect?" She leaves, and Bill enters the room.

Barbara speaks self-deprecatingly about her failures as a wife and mother. She points out she has physically attacked both Violet and Karen "in the space of about nine hours." They talk about Jean. Then Barbara asks, bluntly, "You're never coming back to me, are you, Bill?" He admits he is not. She asks, "I'll never understand why, will I?" Bill says she probably won't. As he walks away, she sobs and says, "I love you ... I love you."


Johnna, not being a Weston, is the most trustworthy character in the play. She is one of the few characters who never lies, the other being Sheriff Gilbeau. Thus when Johnna flings on the lights and bangs Steve on the head, the audience can trust her judgment. Jean's agency in the sexual encounter is somewhat ambiguous. She pretends to be 15, and although she resists Steve's groping, she continues to flirt and she appears to stay in the dark room with him willingly. However, as a teenager she cannot meaningfully consent to the adult Steve's advances. When Steve tries to say he did "nothing wrong" because he thought she was 15, his claim is laughable. But her crack about how young her father "like(s) 'em" is on the nose. Bill, too, has been engaging in predatory behavior, though not with minors.

Karen's siding with Steve is self-serving. Steve represents her "perfect" honeymoon in Belize and her perfect married life. Perhaps because she feels the need to protect herself, she struggles to talk coherently about what happened between Jean and Steve. She blames Jean while claiming not to blame her. Karen tries to justify Steve's behavior, but she also tries to elucidate the difference between being to blame and not being blameless. This distinction helps the audience understand the ways in which Barbara accepts her failures as a mother (so she is not blameless in those failures), but she isn't entirely to blame because her upbringing and circumstances are to blame for many things. Barbara's exploration of the paradox here is part of the way that theme of generational trauma comes to the surface.

Additionally Karen says, darkly, that she "has done things [she's] not proud of." She also says, regarding her future, "I may even have to do some things I am not proud of again." Karen justifies Steve's behavior with the explanation that none of these characters are free of poor decisions, and because she has made decisions (of an unknown nature) of which she is not proud, she can understand someone else who does the same. However, in her review of her shameful choices, she neglects to focus on the shameful thing she is doing in the present: taking the word of a predatory adult over the word of a minor. Although Karen claimed earlier in the play that she had learned to live in the present, she is clinging desperately to her illusion of the future. "Come January, " says Karen, "I'll be in Belize. Doesn't that sound perfect?"

The scene between Barbara and Bill appears to be his farewell to her. But she is the one who brings up the topic of their permanent separation. In Act 1, Scene 3, Bill imagines there will be a future in which he and Barbara will talk over their differences calmly. He pictures this future as happening when Beverly returns. Even though she couldn't know it at the time, Barbara claimed, "My father is dead." This meant Barbara knew there was no future harmony for her and Bill. Now she is continuing to inform Bill about what she already knows, that their marriage is over. When Barbara asks if Bill is never coming back to her, he doesn't answer her right away. He initially deflects, saying half-heartedly, "Never say never, but ... " It is Barbara who has to draw out the implications and get Bill to admit he is never coming back. Instead of this being the scene in which Bill tells the truth about their failing marriage, it is one in which Barbara realizes the truth for herself.

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