Crimes of the Heart Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Crimes of the Heart Analysis

Beth Henley

Masterpieces of Women's Literature Crimes of the Heart Analysis

Beth Henley’s central theme in Crimes of the Heart is betrayal, particularly that of a fierce and rigid, life-denying patriarchy associated with the South. The three sisters around whom the play revolves have been abandoned by their father, an act which subsequently leads to their mother’s suicide. This concern with the father’s betrayal suggests the larger issue of how the South historically has victimized all but white, Anglo-Saxon males of “sound” mind and social connections.

Henley creates a female-centered drama with a community largely defined by women. The play is confined to one indoor set—the kitchen, traditionally the heart of the home and the province of women, where men are conventionally seen and treated as interlopers and intruders upon female space. Doc Porter, Meg’s old boyfriend, and Barnette Lloyd, Babe’s young lawyer, are the only male characters seen on stage, though the looming presences of the sisters’ father and grandfather and of Babe’s husband, Zackery Botrelle, are felt throughout the play. Unlike these patriarchal figures, Porter and Lloyd are not part of the good-old-boy culture; they too are outsiders. They are nurturers, supporting women rather than abusing them.

The central relationships in the play are those shared by the sisters, but each of them must come to terms with self vis-à-vis a male. The playwright is realistic; she does not imagine a world exclusive of men. Instead, she presents a world where the old dies into the new, where not only Meg but also Babe and Lenny must find potential for a positive male-female relationship based on compatibility, equality, and warmth. Before finding this possible kinship, however, each sister must grapple with her own demons.

Henley draws on stereotypic images of women, especially those associated with the South, in order to undercut and reshape them. Babe recalls the dominant ladylike image engendered by the Southern belle myth of the virginal white goddess. Henley describes Babe as having “an angelic face and fierce volatile eyes.” The ambivalence in Henley’s description implies...

(The entire section is 868 words.)