What is the foreshadowing that occurs in the prologue of the play?
The play begins with Beverly in his study interviewing Johnna for a job working for himself and his pill-addicted wife, Violet. He talks at length about his fraught marriage, the fact that he is a drinker and his wife is addicted to pills, and regularly makes allusions to poets, as he himself is a poet. He refers to T.S. Eliot as a poet who had a will to live, and suggests that he does not share this will. Rather, he feels he has more in common with Hart Crane and John Berryman, two poets who killed themselves. In this way, he foreshadows his desire to kill himself, and lo and behold, the first scene features the Weston family reassembling on the occasion of his disappearance.
Why is the fact that Little Charles and Ivy are in love a problem for the family?
Little Charles and Ivy are cousins, and so their love is technically incestuous. This alone is cause for alarm amongst the family members, but Ivy's sisters are willing to accept it anyway, if it is what makes Ivy happy. The larger problem is that Mattie Fae and Beverly had an affair years ago and Little Charles was the result of that affair, so he is actually Ivy's half-brother. This is much more taboo than the idea of two cousins in love, a dynamic that is already quite taboo.
Why does Karen side with Steve after Johnna accuses him of forcing himself on Jean?
Jean is 14 years old and Steve is smoking pot with her and trying to come on to her. When Johnna accuses him of taking advantage of her daughter, Karen sides with Steve. She is in a delusion of her fantasy relationship with a successful man and so only sees Steve's strengths, choosing to forgive even his most horrible faults. As she explains it to Barbara, she lives somewhere in the middle in terms of how she thinks of the situation ethically. She imagines that Jean is at fault as much as Steve is, even though Steve is the older party and ought to be held responsible for the incident.
Why does Barbara leave at the end?
For a moment, it seems as if Barbara might stay with her mother and continue to take care of her. They are actually more compatible than either of them has anticipated, and at the end of the play, Barbara has started to turn into her mother's enabler, drinking heavily and wearing a nightgown all day, having lost all sense of time like a true addict. However, when Violet reveals that she knowingly did nothing to prevent Barbara's father's suicide, Barbara sees what a cruel and hopeless case Violet is, and so leaves once and for all.
What is unique about the tone of the play?
A unique element of the play's tone is the fact that, as tragic and unthinkably tense as the events of the play can be, there are consistent jokes and laugh lines throughout. Tracy Letts mines the dysfunction of the family for the dark humor of each scenario. For most of the tragic events, Letts puts a comic spin on characters' reactions to these events. Even Violet, a horrifically cruel and tragic character, delivers some of the play's funniest lines. In the final scene, however, there are no more jokes to be made, and Violet is left in a devastating isolation.