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Martina Cowen, Section 13

Essay 5

August: Osage County 12 Guideposts

1. Relationship

The relationships in this play are very complicated. Everyone in the play seems to be involved in a

love-hate relationship with at least one other character. Beverly and Violet appear to hate each

other, their hatred fuelled by their addictions, but they also love each other. Beverly knows hes

going to commit suicide. The last thing he does before he leaves is to hire Johnna. He and Violet

might fight all the time, but his last act was to hire help so that Violet would have someone to look

after things once he was gone. Barbra and Bill are getting a divorce, but Barbra still loves Bill. The

fact that she still loves him is why she gets so angry with him. Bill does not love Barbra anymore

which is why it is so easy to walk away from her. Jean loves her parents but she is angry at her dad

for leaving her mom for one of his students. Barbra, Ivy and Karen love each other as sisters, but

there is definitely sibling rivalry when they discuss who their parents favourites are. Ivy loves her

mom but she resents her for always putting her down. Barbara also loves her mom but she is angry

with her for getting addicted to drugs again. Mattie Fae and Charlie love each other but they do

argue, and Charlie is not happy with the way that Mattie Fae treats their son. He is so unhappy with

this that he threatens her with divorce. Little Charles loves his parents, but is constantly put down by

his mother. This similarity to Ivy is why the two feel such a strong connection (besides the fact that,

unknown to them, they are actually brother and sister!). Mattie Fay loves her son, but she also treats

him so badly because he is a constant reminder that she cheated on her husband with her sisters

husband. Violet loves everyone in her family, but she cannot show it because she is so addicted to

drugs. She seems to want to keep things together as she appears to know everyones secrets but

does not bring them up to avoid conflict. She loves her daughters, but resents them at the same

time, as Barbara (her favourite) moved away, Ivy doesnt conform to her ideals of what a woman

should be like, and Karen has kept herself separate from the family for years. Despite the fact that
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she and Beverly argued so much, deep down she did love him, and his disappearance and death

affected her greatly.

2. Conflict

While Beverly and Violet fight a lot, their real conflict is with themselves. They are both addicted to

something and, for Beverly especially, they are wrestling with the idea that their life is not worth

living. Barbara and Bill are getting a divorce. What Barbara wants is for Bill to love her again, and the

conflict comes from the fact that he does not, cannot, and has replaced her for someone younger.

Their daughter Jean wants her parents to stop fighting, and is in the middle of puberty. She is trying

to figure out who she is, and is experimenting with drugs and sex. Ivys conflict lies in the fact that

she wants her mother to accept her for who she is. This is also true of Little Charles. Karen and

Steves conflict arises when Steve makes advances towards Jean. He has been married three times

before, and Karen knows this. She wants to be the one that he sticks around for, because her life has

been so unhappy up to this point. All of the children want to make sure their mother is ok, while

wondering what happened to their father, and ultimately want her to stop using prescription drugs

as a crutch, which of course, she resists.

3. The Moment Before

Years ago, Beverly was a critically acclaimed author. Since his great success with Meadowlark, he

struggled to produce anything as well-received. He was under immense pressure (mostly put on him

by himself) to create something just as good, and he never did. He didnt write anything for years

and felt that he failed, causing him to spiral into depression and become dependent on alcohol. This

perhaps caused Violet to become dependent on pills.

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4. Humour

There is humour in the way that Beverly and Violet fight, and in how the other couples and siblings

bicker. There is also humour in the way Violet acts when she is high on pills. Additionally, there is

humour in the way that Jean acts (for example, wanting to get home in time to watch Phantom of

the Opera), and also in Mattie Faes reaction to the fact that Jean has grown up since she last saw


5. Opposites

The opposites lie within the relationships in the play. There is a lot of love but also hatred between

all the characters. The reason they argue so much is because they love each other. This is especially

true of Barbara and Bill, who argue because Barbara is still in love with Bill and she is hurt that he is

leaving her for a younger woman. Johnna, although a minor character, is clearly disturbed by the

goings on in the household she has just started working for, but she needs the money and ultimately

comforts Violet and Jean when they come to her for support, even though this is not part of her job


6. Discoveries

There are many discoveries in this play such as when the family finds out that Beverly is dead, and

that it was likely to be suicide. Barbara discovers that she can never have Bill back. Karen discovers

that Steve is not going to bring her the happiness she had hoped for. Ivy discovers that she cannot

be in a relationship with Little Charles as they are in fact brother and sister.

7. Communication and Competition

There is competition between Beverly and Violet as they argue a lot. Barbara and Bills arguments

are very competitive. They both have to be right. When Ivy fights with Violet, she is convinced that

her mother has too many expectations of her, while Violet is sure that if her daughter took her

advice, shed be happier. Mattie Fay and Charlies competition is about how they treat their son.
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8. Importance

The most important things in this play are finding out what happened to Beverly, Violets family

wanting to get her off prescription pills, and figuring out troubled relationships. None of these

characters are happy, and without resolving these things they never will be.

9. Find the Event

The main events are Beverlys disappearance, the discovery of Beverlys body, Beverlys funeral,

Steve trying to have sex with Jean (and Karens subsequent emotional discovery), Ivy discovering that

she and Little Charlie are brother and sister, Barbara taking the pills from her mother, and Barbara

realising that Bill does not love her any more.

10. Place

The play is set in A large county home outside Pawhuska, Oklahoma, sixty miles northwest of Tulsa.

This has significance for nearly all the characters, as it is the family home. Beverly and Violet have

lived there for years. Its where Barbara, Ivy and Karen grew up. Jean used to sleep in the attic room

where Johnna now resides. The way Barbara describes the area they live in is also very enlightening.

She says: This is the Plains: a state of mind, right some spiritual affliction, like the Blues. This shows

how she (and most probably the other characters) feel that their environment (and growing up here)

has affected their mental well-being.

11. Game Playing and Role Playing

The characters are all playing at happy families, or at least attempting to. It could be for the sake of

Violet, as they can all see how far gone she is. Barbara and Bill are pretending to be happy as they

want to downplay the fact that theyre getting a divorce. Violet is playing the role of the

peacekeeper. While she appears to cause the most noticeable havoc (her pill induced outbursts), she

has been aware of certain things within the family that she keeps to herself in order to avoid conflict.

She only lets on that she knows when she feels the time is right.
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12. Mystery and Secret

When Beverly hires Johnna in the beginning, it is because he knows that he is going to run away and

kill himself. Ivy and Little Charlie have been keeping their love to themselves up until now. Violet is a

keeper of secrets. She is fully aware that her husband had an affair with her sister. She also knows

that Little Charlie is the child of this affair. She knows that Barbara and Bill are getting divorced. She

does not reveal that she knows these things until the very end.