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August: Osage County | Study Guide

Tracy Letts

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August: Osage County | Act 3, Scene 5 | Summary



Barbara and Ivy are in the dining room. Barbara is wearing a nightgown, perhaps from the night before, and they are waiting for Johnna to serve a meal. The sisters talk about whether Violet is "clean," meaning sober. Barbara says she's "clean-ish" and that will have to do. Ivy says she's going to tell Violet about herself and Charles. Barbara thinks it's a bad idea, but Ivy insists because she and Charles are leaving for New York the next day. Barbara tries to dissuade Ivy from going, but she doesn't give a reason. Johnna enters and serves the food, catfish.

When Violet enters. Barbara offers her catfish, but Violet says she is not hungry. Ivy comments on the fact that both Violet and Barbara are wearing nightclothes. Barbara becomes insistent, ordering Violet several times to, "Eat it." Ivy tries repeatedly to raise the subject of Little Charles, but Barbara interrupts by screaming about food, throwing plates, and claiming Ivy is a lesbian. Finally Ivy gets a word in, but as soon as she mentions Little Charles her mother interrupts her. "Little Charles and you are brother and sister. I know that," says Violet.

Violet admits she always knew about the affair. She says that she never discussed the affair with Beverly. "But your father ... knew I knew," Violet claims. She sees no reason for Little Charles to be told. Ivy is stunned, and she is angry at Barbara for not telling her. Ivy says she and Little Charles will go anyway. She storms out, saying, "You will never see me again." Violet comments that it wouldn't be right to let them "run off together." She is confident Ivy will not actually leave Oklahoma.

Then Violet says she would have told Beverly she knew about Little Charles if she had reached him at the motel in his final days. He had left her a note saying he was at the motel, and she called the motel on Monday. Barbara is horrified to learn her mother might have stopped her father's suicide if she had bothered to call him sooner. Barbara asks whether the note mentioned suicide, but Violet doesn't reply. Instead she says Barbara is at fault and Beverly would never have killed himself if Barbara were still at home.

Violet admits she waited until Monday so she could get to the safety deposit box. But she also waited so she could show Beverly she was stronger than he. "Who's stronger now?" she crows. Barbara leaves.

Violet calls out repeatedly for Barbara and Ivy, but they are gone. She calls out to Beverly and then to Johnna. She puts on the Eric Clapton record and then she crawls upstairs on all fours. She reaches Johnna's room and crawls into Johnna's lap. She repeats the phrase "and then you're gone," adding the names Beverly and Barbara. The scene ends with Violet and Johnna speaking simultaneously. Johnna sings some words from a poem by T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land. "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends." Violet repeats the phrase "and then you're gone."


This scene provides a taste of the future that would have been Barbara's and Violet's, if Barbara didn't leave. She and Violet have fallen further into dissolution, as shown by the fact that they are wearing nightgowns at the dinner table. Ivy, too, was meant to be a part of this life, and Violet clearly expects her life to go on this way: carping at her two captive daughters and being waited on by Johnna. But Violet's reign over the Weston household is coming to an end as the remaining members of the family abandon her. For Barbara, the tipping point seems to be Violet's admission that Beverly left a note and Violet knew where he was for the first two days of his absence. It seems likely the note did mention suicide, as Violet's silence when Barbara questions her about that is telling. Violet appears not to have believed Beverly's talk of suicide, if indeed he did mention it in the note. Instead Violet interpreted the note as a ploy in a power struggle, and she waited Beverly out so she could win the struggle. The victory is hollow, of course, as can be seen in Violet's empty boast, "Who's stronger now?"

In some ways the power structure in the Weston household has changed. Barbara is "running things now," as she shouts during the funeral dinner in the final line of Act 2. It is clear Barbara is in charge since she keeps ordering Violet to eat her food, as though Violet were a child. Although Violet begins the play as the strong if pill-addled matriarch, at the end she is like a child. When bossy, maternal-ish Barbara abandons her at last, Violet simply transfers her neediness and helplessness to the only person left in the house, Johnna. She crawls into Johnna's lap as though the young housekeeper could soothe her like a surrogate mother. However, Johnna is also symbolically Beverly's stand-in. She accepted his gift of a book by T.S. Eliot, his favorite, and now she intones Eliot's lines, just as Beverly might have. So the moment Violet climbs into Johnna's lap is also a way of reuniting her with her dead husband. Violet may not look at Johnna as a stand-in for Beverly, but the audience can, since Letts has taken pains to identify Johnna with T.S. Eliot.

Johnna's final lines from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" resolve the play's theme of decline. The world of the Westons has dwindled until only Violet is left, whimpering in Johnna's arms. Violet's last words also resolve the theme of decline by picking up on a passage from Act 1, Scene 4. In that scene Violet repeated the phrase, "and then you're here, and then you're here." Now, in Act 3, Scene 5, Violet takes up the refrain again, changing it to "and then you're gone" and adding the names Barbara and Beverly. Her repetitive words sound like drug-addled nonsense, but they have a kind of poetic logic to them. Each time, Violet seems to be telling a story of life, but a life stripped of all meaning and reduced to a series of senseless events—"and then you're here, and then you're here." Or she might have been, in Act 1, Scene 4, telling the story of the gathering of the Weston clan. Now she is telling that story in reverse, recounting her losses, starting with Beverly and Barbara.

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