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August: Osage County | Study Guide

Tracy Letts

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August: Osage County | Quotes


Life is very long.

Beverly, Prologue

Beverly is quoting a poem, "The Hollow Men" (1925), by his favorite poet, T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). "The Hollow Men" is about the futility of life for the characters, "the hollow men" who are spiritually empty. Life is long for Eliot's hollow men because all their acts are doomed to failure. The fact that Beverly is quoting this line of Eliot's poem suggests that he is weary of his life. It also suggests Beverly is already contemplating taking his own life, days before he disappears.


This is a great room. Very Night of the Hunter.

Jean, Act 1, Scene 2

Jean is in the attic bedroom of Beverly and Violet's house, a room that is now Johnna's bedroom. Night of the Hunter (1955) is about two children menaced by a wicked priest. The movie is a crime thriller but is today regarded as a masterpiece. Jean is filtering her experience through references to rarefied, obscure, or cult movies. The reference also resonates with the play's theme of intergenerational conflict and trauma. The priest is the children's stepfather, and he tries to get information out of them. As in the epigraph to the play, the parents in August: Osage County feel children have taken something from them, and they resentfully try to get it back.


My father's dead, Bill.

Barbara, Act 1, Scene 3

Officially Beverly is still just missing. When Barbara says this, she can't know for certain that Beverly is dead. This quote points to more than Barbara's pessimism about her father. In saying this, Barbara is also making a sharp retort to Bill. He has just said they will talk over their marriage problems at a later time, when they can give these problems "care" and "attention." Bill says that later time will be when Barbara's father is home again. In saying her father is dead, Barbara is also saying there is no future time of peace and harmony when she and Bill will talk everything through.


Summer psalm become summer wrath.

Violet, Act 2

This line appears with quotation marks around it. Presumably it is a line of Beverly's poetry. The use of the subjunctive verb "become," coupled with the elevated, biblical diction of the words "psalm" and "wrath" mark it as poetry. Violet has just said, as if addressing Beverly, that "August ... (is) your month." In Beverly's poem, August is the month when summer's pleasant, almost sublime warmth intensifies into something awful.


The present. Today, here and now.

Karen, Act 2

With these fragmentary words, Karen is announcing to Barbara that she is now dedicated to living in the present moment. Karen seems to be the least loved of the Weston daughters. Barbara is her mother's favorite, and Ivy was her father's, but no one dotes on Karen. Perhaps for that reason, she talks about herself nonstop, trying to convince others she exists. Immediately after saying this, Karen launches into a long narrative of what her past was like long before she acquired this piece of wisdom. Then she talks at length about her future. This gives her statement dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows more than the character about what the character says. Here, the audience can see that Karen does not live in the present as she claims.


I've seen a chimp drive.

Mattie Fae, Act 2

Mattie Fae is speaking scornfully about the fact that her son, 37-year-old Little Charlie, doesn't know how to drive. Mattie Fae heaps scorn on her son throughout the play, until her husband threatens to leave her if she does not stop. Little Charles is in fact the son of Mattie Fae and Beverly, conceived during a secret affair. It seems Little Charles disappoints his mother precisely because he is nothing like his real father, the successful poet, secret lover, and complicated man Beverly Weston. Mattie Fae claims she is only disappointed "for him (her son)," meaning she is sad he has such limited life choices. But this tender pity does not ring true to the contemptuous way she speaks of her son.


Nobody slips anything by me. I know what's what.

Violet, Act 2

Violet has just correctly guessed that Bill and Barbara are separated. She guesses this even though they have putting up a pretense of still being married, even going so far as to sleep in the same room. Violet is right—she is hard to fool. She goes on to boast that her husband "thought he's slipping one by me" but couldn't. She means he thought his affair with Mattie Fae was a secret. However, one thing Violet seems to have no clue about is her future, in which all her children leave and she is alone with Johnna.


I have a truth.

Little Charles, Act 2

Violet has been slinging barbed insults at everyone in the name of truth-telling. The other family members have gone on the counter-attack. For example, just after Little Charles speaks, Barbara offers Violet a blunt truth: "You're a drug addict." But hapless, inconsequential Little Charles is ignored during this battle of truths. He wants to use his own weaponized truth, that he and his cousin Ivy are in love. But Little Charles also embodies a truth that he knows nothing about: he and Ivy are actually half-siblings. Thus, when Little Charles says, "I have a truth," he says more than he knows.


We're all just people ... a random selection of cells. Nothing more.

Ivy, Act 3, Scene 1

Ivy is speaking with extreme skepticism about "the myths of sisterhood." Of all the three Weston sisters, Ivy is the most bitter about sentimental family ties because she has paid the highest price. Barbara and Karen have swanned off to lovers, husbands, and careers of their own in distant places, but homebody Ivy has been saddled with caring for their aging parents. She no longer believes in family ties because she has seen that her sisters are only out for themselves.


Who's stronger now, you son-of-a-bitch?!

Violet, Act 3, Scene 5

Violet is addressing her husband, Beverly, who has been dead for weeks now. She is speaking of the iron will she showed in not calling Beverly at the motel in the days just before he took his own life. Late in the play, Barbara learns that Violet knew where Beverly was when he went missing: at the Country Squire Motel. Not calling him was an act of passive aggression on Violet's part. She has pretended to Barbara that there was no important reason she didn't call him, as though their missed connection in his final days was just an accident. But when Violet asks "who's stronger now," she reveals the bitter struggle that was going on between them and the solace she seeks in her own perceived strength as she nears the end of a long and very difficult life.

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