Themes, Ideas, and Issues Approached


As the play progresses Letts increasingly crafts a particular insularity within the Weston family. One example of how this is done is the slow revelation of Little Charles and Ivy’s illicit, romantic, relationship. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that the two of them are involved; however, it is not until very near the end of the story that the audience is made aware of the fact that Ivy and Little Charles are in fact half siblings, not first cousins. Incest is in a sense a direct metaphor for isolation, as it is the literal isolation of a bloodline. This revelation of the depth of the incest in which Ivy and Little Charles are living, is just one parallel of the increasing isolation of the family as a whole.

What makes the Weston’s social constriction so intriguing is that the audience can assume that the Westons were not always so alone. In fact Beverly was once a college professor and renowned poet, and the books that fill every nook and cranny of the house suggest that there is significant knowledge of and past association with things other than what happens within the house and family. (Letts) The juxtaposition of the Weston’s past worldliness with their current narrowness can be shocking since the family exists in the larger, small town restrictedness of Osage County as a whole. The circumstances in which the Westons reside is one of the most important aspects for understanding the behavior of each family member and how they interact both with one another and with outsiders.

What Is Love ft. Relationships, Abandonment, and Freedom

The theme most closely associated with the Weston’s isolation is incest, as has already been discussed. In fact, incest and other highly inappropriate relationships pervade the majority of the characters’ problems. Not only is there the incestuous relationship of Ivy and Little Charles, but there is also the adultery of Beverly with his wife’s sister, Steve’s infidelity to his fiancée Karen with his assault upon Karen’s niece Jean, and Bill’s relationship with his student. These relationships are the source of a great deal of the tension and dishonesty that propel the family towards its demise. The fact that the integral issues the Westons face involve misdirected love in less than appropriate relationships tells the audience what Letts may be trying to question with the story. The concept of what love looks like is linked to each character’s pursuit of freedom, whether it is from addiction or from the isolation of their family. The Weston daughters have to sort through how to care for the mother while also caring for themselves. Violet’s addictions reach a point where her personality becomes so corrosive to those around her that the family must decide if it is in anyone’s best interest to continue to care for her. The daughters must grapple with what loving their mother looks like while they attempt to reach their own freedom from the family difficulties. They must determine whether or not to leave her and pursue their own lives apart from the family. Not only is there the question of whether or not the three Weston girls abandon their mother, but also there are Bill and Jean who at the end abandon Barbara, Bill’s wife and Jean’s mother.

Substance Abuse

Yet the most intense example that questions what is and what is not abandonment remains as Violet’s addiction, which itself is part of the theme of substance abuse. Beverly makes the audience aware from the very beginning in the prologue that, “My wife takes pills and I drink.” (Letts) Substance abuse infuses the lives of many of the family members: Beverly is an alcoholic; Violet is addicted to multiple drugs; and Steve, Bill, Jean, and Uncle Charles illegally use marijuana on a regular basis. Indeed the family as a whole uses various substances to assuage their feelings during Beverly’s wake, making it apparent that substance abuse is yet another major factor affecting the happiness of the Westons. (Fifer, 191) Yet the most pronounced of these abuses is Violet’s, which is in many ways the hinge that ultimately breaks the family apart.

The Title

The title, August: Osage County, is yet another hint at what Tracy Letts was attempting to accomplish in the themes of the play. The story completely revolves around the Weston family. It doesn’t even try to explain how it affects the Weston’s surrounding community, much less Osage County as a whole. Yet, by titling the piece after the county as a whole in the dead heat of summer, it’s almost as if the play is Letts showing us one snapshot as an example of the whole. However, Letts is very doubtfully casting a judgment upon the whole county, claiming that every family has all the same or similar issues as the Westons. Rather, it is more likely that Letts is trying to explicate the idea that most families suffer from a failure to communicate and relate to one another. In addition, the remote and landlocked nature of the Weston household leads one to think about the theme of being trapped in one’s ways and the fight to be free from the only life someone has ever known.