How do the male characters impact the sisters in Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley belongs to the MaGrath sisters: Babe, Meg, and Lenny.  The male characters' purpose is to support the women in their struggle to understand what life expects from them. Each of the sisters has a problem that seems almost unsolvable.

Babe’s shooting of her husband in the stomach outweighs the other sisters’ problems at the present.  Babe needs a good lawyer; unfortunately for her, that person was her husband.  She does not love her husband; in fact, she has been having an affair with a fifteen year old African American boy, Willie Jay.  Her husband has discovered the affair.

How do the men in the sister’s lives impact them?

Old Granddaddy- He is never seen on stage but his presence is felt.  During the play, the old man has a stroke and all of the girls are concerned about his survival. 

His greatest impact seems to be on Babe.   Babe's difficulty in her marriage to Zachary, meanwhile, seems to have grown out the fact that she did not choose him but was pressured by her grandfather into marrying the successful lawyer.

His favorite granddaughter was Meg.  She found her mother after she committed suicide.  At the beginning of the play, Meg returns to her home from Los Angeles, where her singing career has stalled and where she had a nervous breakdown and ended up in the psychiatric ward of the county hospital.

Old Granddaddy has always told her: "With your talent, all you need is exposure. Then you can make your own breaks!”

She lies to Granddaddy and tells him that her singing career is going fine.

Lenny, the oldest sister, was left by the sisters to take care of the grandparents.  She resents having to act as the nursemaid. Lenny is frustrated after years of carrying heavy burdens of responsibility; most recently, she has been caring for Old Granddaddy by sleeping on a cot in the kitchen to be near him.

Doc Porter is Meg's old boyfriend. He actually never became a doctor. He loved and wanted to marry Meg. He stayed behind with her during the storm while the rest of the town evacuated for the storm. Doc has since married and has children. However, he still comes around the MaGrath family. It is obvious that the love between Doc and Meg is unresolved.  

Willie Jay-He is a fifteen year old black boy who has been having an affair with Babe.  Since Babe’s marriage is loveless, she looked for companionship wherever she could find it. Now, that Zachary, her husband, knows about the affair, Willie has to escape by bus and head North.

Barnette  Lloyd- He is Babe’s lawyer.  He seeks revenge on Babe’s husband. Zachary ruined Barnette’s father’s life.  He is also attracted to Babe.  He does not want to take the shooting to trial because of the affair with Willie Jay.  The play ends witht the hope that Barnette will be able to help Babe. 

The men in the story expose another side of these sisters and provide a nice depth and change of pace to keep things interesting. The masculine influence in the play serves to hinder or help the girls’ lives. 

The sisters are strong but vulnerable and have been limited in the opportunities in their lives.  The suicide of their mother has never left their minds.  The men have been both good and bad for them.  In the end of the play, the future of the sisters is unresolved.