August: Osage County

August: Osage County Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Pot (Motif)

Jean smokes pot throughout the play, which is representative of both the fact that Jean is very precocious and also that she is trying to escape the difficult dynamics within her family. She is upset about her parents' separation and recedes into drugs and other adult pastimes as a way to break free from the turmoil. Smoking pot is what she does to escape what is going on in her family, but it is also what ends up connecting her to Steve, who takes advantage of her precociousness sexually.

Poetry (Motif)

Beverly recites poetry in the prologue of the play to signify that, not only is he himself a poet, but he is connected to the poetic tradition. He speaks about other poets and their personal histories with suicide as a way of foreshadowing his own intention to commit suicide. Poetry, like drinking, is a way for him to escape from the turmoil of his relationship to the pill-addicted wife, and it is what encourages him to end his own life. Throughout the play, allusions are made to Beverly's poetic soul and the fact that he was once a successful poet himself. At the end, when everyone has left the house, Johnna sings a line from T.S. Eliot to Violet, "This is the way the world ends," a haunting line taken from a book that Beverly gave her before he decided to kill himself.

Umbilical Cord (Symbol)

Johnna wears her umbilical cord in a pouch around her neck, a Cheyenne tradition that is symbolic of her soul having a place to go when she dies. It has a symbolic meaning within Cheyenne culture, but it also has a symbolic meaning in the context of the play. It represents that she is connected to her family and her heritage, and that she has a symbolic way of organizing her sense of self, which contrasts a great deal with the Weston family's relationship to history and heritage. Johnna processes her existence and connection to her family with a sense of gravity, while the Westons flagrantly disrespect one another and ruin that which is sacred.

Mouth Cancer (Symbol)

We learn early on that Violet has been diagnosed with mouth cancer, which Beverly suggests is a kind of "punchline." The reason it is a punchline is because she has such a sharp and incriminating tongue, so the mouth cancer becomes itself a kind of metaphor or symbol of her verbal cruelty. What's more, throughout the play, she continues to spew venom at anyone who comes near her.

The Shades (Symbol)

The Weston's family home is a sort of allegory for the family itself, and Violet's isolation from the world. When we see it in the beginning, the shades are all drawn and taped down, to obscure the time of day outside the house. This is not only indicative of Violet's addiction, but it is also a symbol for the fact that she has cut herself off from the world, cloistered herself away in abject isolation.