August: Osage County

by

Tracy Letts

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August: Osage County: Act 1, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Later that night, red and blue police lights flash through the living room. Johnna appears downstairs, and gently wakes Barbara. She tells Barbara that the sheriff is at the house. Bill and Barbara scramble out of bed, and Barbara goes upstairs with Johnna to wake Violet. They knock on Violet’s door, telling her the sheriff has come—Violet’s slurred and incoherent responses from within the room show that she is heavily-drugged and half asleep. Bill urges Barbara to come back downstairs and talk to the sheriff herself, and to let her mother sleep.
Violet is so high that she is unable to process what is happening. Though she has been waiting days for news from the sheriff, when it finally arrives, she is incoherent and incapacitated, and the burden of attending to the sheriff falls to Barbara.
Themes
Parents, Children, and Inheritance Theme Icon
Patriarchy and American Memory Theme Icon
Addiction Theme Icon
Bill lets the sheriff in, and Barbara and Johnna return downstairs. As the sheriff steps into the room, Barbara recognizes him as Deon Gilbeau—someone from her past. Sheriff Gilbeau tells Barbara, Bill, Johnna, and Jean that he has some bad news for them. The department has found Beverly’s body—he is dead. Barbara cries and collapses to the floor. Johnna comforts her.
Despite her cynicism about her family—and the fact that she was anticipating such news—Barbara is hit hard by the news that her father has died, revealing the fact that there was, against all odds, an emotional connection between them.
Themes
Parents, Children, and Inheritance Theme Icon
Patriarchy and American Memory Theme Icon
Gilbeau reveals that a few hours ago, lake patrol called to say that Beverly’s boat had been found washed up on a sandbar. They’d planned to dredge the lake, but before they could do so, two fishermen hooked Beverly’s body and pulled it up. Gilbeau says that he needs a relative to come with him and identify the body. Barbara says she doesn’t think she can do it. Bill offers to go, but Gilbeau insists it needs to be a blood relative. Barbara stoically agrees to go, and hurries to put some clothes on.
Barbara is being strong for her family in spite of the fact that she is reluctant to be back in Oklahoma in the first place, as well as the fact that these burdens should not have to fall on her—if her mother weren’t so incapacitated and if her husband hadn’t strayed, she wouldn’t be feeling so alone. 
Themes
Parents, Children, and Inheritance Theme Icon
Familial Responsibility and Entrapment Theme Icon
Bill asks Gilbeau what he thinks happened—whether Beverly’s death was an accident or a suicide. Gilbeau admits that he guesses it was suicide, though the official cause of death is “drowning.” Gilbeau warns Bill that the body is bloated and decomposed, as it has been in the water for about three days—he urges Bill to “prepare” Barbara for what she will see down at the lake.
The fact that Beverly’s death was a suicide casts it in a new—but not entirely unexpected—light. Beverly’s life had become unbearable, and as his behavior in the prologue suggested, he had begun preparing to end his life before the play even began.
Themes
Patriarchy and American Memory Theme Icon
Addiction Theme Icon
Familial Responsibility and Entrapment Theme Icon
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Up on the second floor, Jean sits with Barbara while Barbara brushes her hair. Barbara reveals to Jean that she and the Sheriff went to high school together. They were prom dates, but on the day of the prom, Deon’s father got drunk and stole his car. Deon and Barbara attempted to walk the three miles to the prom, but got so dirty and sweaty that they just got a six-pack, broke into a local chapel, and spent the night talking and kissing. Marveling at the irony of the fact that it is Deon who has come to take her to her dead father’s body, Barbara says it’s good that people can’t see the future—otherwise they’d never get out of bed. Barbara looks Jean in the eye and asks Jean to promise her she’ll outlive her. Jean says she’ll do her best.
Barbara is attempting to connect with her daughter in this scene, despite the emotional maelstrom swirling all around them. Barbara’s revelations of her own past are painful and embarrassing, and perhaps she is hoping to offer Jean a portrait of herself as a young woman to help Jean better understand the kind of place Barbara comes from.
Themes
Parents, Children, and Inheritance Theme Icon
Violence, Abuse, and Power Theme Icon
Familial Responsibility and Entrapment Theme Icon
Down in the study, Sheriff Gilbeau is waiting for Barbara to get ready. Violet enters shakily, still in her pajamas. She speaks in nonsensical half-sentences, slurring her words. Eventually it becomes clear that she is asking whether Beverly has come home. She asks Gilbeau for a cigarette, and he gives her one and lights it for her. Violet speaks a garbled sentence, which may or not be “I’m in Hell.” She goes over to the stereo in the living room and puts a record on. “Lay Down, Sally” by Eric Clapton begins playing. Sheriff Gilbeau, horrified but transfixed, follows Violet into the living room and watches as she dances madly, speaking and singing incoherently.
Violet comes downstairs, high out of her mind, and attempts to converse with the sheriff despite the fact that she is unable to form a single coherent sentence. The music she selects—“Lay Down, Sally”—is a deceivingly upbeat song whose lyrics betray a deep anxiety about being abandoned. Violet does not seem to need to hear from the sheriff that her husband is dead—the violent devastation of being abandoned is already present in her actions here.
Themes
Patriarchy and American Memory Theme Icon
Addiction Theme Icon
Familial Responsibility and Entrapment Theme Icon