Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Heidi Chronicles, which won the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1989, focuses on the women’s movement of the late twentieth century from the point of view of Heidi Holland, feminist art historian. The two acts each open with a prologue about overlooked women painters. The action of the play begins at a dance in 1965 where Heidi meets Peter Patrone, who charms her with his wit. They promise to know each other all their lives.
Several years later during a Eugene McCarthy rally, Heidi encounters Scoop Rosenbaum. Scoop is obnoxious and extremely arrogant, and he has a tendency to grade everything, yet Heidi leaves the party to go to bed with him. At a consciousness-raising session a lesbian explains to Heidi that in feminism, “you either shave your legs or you don’t.” Heidi considers body hair in the range of the personal, but she participates in the group, detailing her pathetic attachment to Scoop. Distraught, she begs the women to tell her that all their daughters will feel more worthwhile than they do.
Next, Heidi attends a rally at the Chicago Art Institute, protesting the opening of a major retrospective containing no women artists. Peter arrives and confesses his homosexuality. Act 1 closes with Scoop’s wedding to another woman. Although he claims to love Heidi, Scoop does not promise her equality. At the wedding he knowingly marries a woman he considers his lesser. By act 2 Heidi has written her book, And the Light...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1989, Heidi Holland is lecturing on female artists. Her thoughts first flash back to a high school dance in 1965, where she and her friend Susan Johnston begin their investigation of the opposite gender. While Susan is asking a boy to dance, Heidi meets and befriends Peter Patrone. Heidi then remembers a political rally in 1968, where she had met Scoop Rosenbaum, who seduced her.
Heidi then remembers that, in 1970, she and Susan joined a women’s consciousness-raising group, where Heidi’s inability to fit in had become apparent. She had still been seeing Scoop. At a Women in Art protest in front of the Chicago Art Institute in 1974, Heidi met Peter’s new boyfriend, Mark. Heidi had been engaged in the issues of her times, yet she never was entirely engrossed in them. She remained an outsider, an individualist who observed the follies of others’ commitments rather than fully commit to relationships herself.
Heidi continues her flash backs to the 1970’s. She matter-of-factly tells Peter that she is not having a relationship with Scoop but that she just enjoys sleeping with him. Peter sees through Heidi’s shell and responds ironically that Heidi is now a woman of the 1970’s who can use men to fulfill her sexual needs without an emotional connection. Peter knows, however, that Heidi’s emotional needs are not being fulfilled, either professionally or socially.
In 1977, Heidi and Peter are at Scoop’s wedding; he is marrying a woman named Lisa. Despite the flippant air of cynicism at the wedding, especially as provided by the wit of Peter and the droll sarcasm of Susan, for Heidi the moment is painful. She is experiencing the consequences of her inability to connect with Scoop. Scoop introduces Heidi to Lisa as Peter’s fiancé. In the ensuing conversation, Scoop and Heidi engage in an awkward, roundabout discussion of their relationship, with each making light jokes to avoid discussing it directly. Scoop admits to Heidi that they want different things in life and that he could not wait for her any longer. He tells her that he will always love her, and they dance slowly to “You...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Wasserstein was inspired to write The Heidi Chronicles by the image she had of a woman telling a group of other women how unhappy she feels. The play arose partially out of Wasserstein’s anger that the search for personal fulfillment had led to the abandonment both of shared ideals and of a mutual acceptance of different lifestyles. At a crucial moment in the play, Heidi Holland delivers a speech to her prep school alumnae, telling them that she feels stranded.
The Heidi Chronicles, however, is not an argumentative play; it is a nostalgic journey through one woman’s life. The play opens with Heidi’s lecture on women’s art. Heidi discusses a picture that symbolizes the brevity of youth and life. The picture reminds Heidi of a young girl at a high school dance who does not know whether to leave or stay and who simply waits for something to happen. In act 2, Heidi, still lecturing, notes that the detached woman in the painting is a spectator, not a participant. Surrounded by flashbacks, these two scenes in the present highlight the play’s major themes: the passing away of youthful idealism and the isolating of an outsider who feels increasingly alienated in a changing world.
Heidi’s position as an outsider structures almost every scene in the play. The flashbacks begin at a high-school dance in 1965, with Heidi sitting on the side until she meets Peter, who says that if they cannot marry they will still be friends...
(The entire section is 511 words.)