Barbara and Johnna sit in the study, in the same positions that Beverly and Johnna sat in during the Prologue. Barbara is drunk, and nurses a glass of whiskey. She tells Johnna that the last time she spoke with her father, the two of them were talking about the state of the world, and he lamented that America had lost its sense of promise. Barbara reveals that she now thinks that Beverly was talking about having lost faith in something more specific, or personal, than American in general. She says there was something hopeless in his voice, as if it was already too late—not just for him, but for America.
This scene is designed to mirror the prologue, and to show the similarities between Barbara and Beverly. Barbara, too, is aware of the changing landscape of her country, and seems to intuit that her father’s forfeiture of his life is a metaphor for a larger shift in the landscape of her world. Barbara can’t possibly know, in calling Johnna into the study and monologuing at her while sipping on whiskey, that she is mirroring her father’s earlier behavior—yet for Johnna it must be a disorienting experience.
Johnna asks Barbara if she is firing her. Barbara insists that she’s not—rather, she’s giving Johnna the opportunity to quit. Barbara doesn’t want Johnna to think her services aren’t necessary, though. All Barbara is trying to say is that she is here—she is sticking around—and if Johnna wanted to leave, Barbara would still be around. Johnna says she wants to stay. She doesn’t to the job for Barbara, she says, or for Violet, but for herself, because she so badly needs the work.
Johnna has witnessed pain, trauma, death, and abuse in her short time working for the Westons—and yet the painful fact is that she needs the work and must stay on in the face of such toxicity. Johnna is just as trapped within the Weston family as any of the Westons themselves.
Barbara finishes her whiskey and asks what Beverly and Johnna talked about. Johnna says that Beverly talked a lot about his daughters, and his granddaughter, and said they were his “joy.” Barbara thanks Johnna for lying to her, and then tells her she wants her to stay. She tells Johnna that she herself will pay Johnna’s salary. Johnna nods, and leaves the room. Barbara pours herself another glass of whiskey and announces to no one that she is still here.
Barbara makes a decision in this moment that runs counter to everything she seemed to want in the beginning of the play. She proudly announces that she is “still here”—that she is staying on in her family’s home and taking an active role in the care of the house and the family in a way her father no longer could. Barbara feels, perhaps, that as the eldest, such a duty is her inheritance.