What are the characters like in Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer is based on Kramer's own life and his fight against what was then an unknown disease which seemed to primarily target gay men who one by one died from an unknown disease.

HIV and AIDS in the 1980s is a phenomenon which Ned Weeks, a man "with a big mouth" and a somewhat insufferable personality, cannot ignore. Since he is a writer and a gay man, Ned's friends expect him to organize a spread in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers, but for a "gay disease" that's unlikely because "nobody with a brain gets involved in gay politics." Ned is passionate and full of nervous energy, anxious to highlight this problem and not allow it to be played down like he feels the Holocaust was. Ned admits that he is not really a team player and his recommendation (suggested by Dr. Laura Brookner) that gay people should refrain from sex is not well-received in his circles. Ned admits that the gay men he knows all relate on an intimate level rather than a platonic level and so in-fighting and sexual tension within the organization he and Bruce Niles will lead hamper progress and reduce its effectiveness, leading to Ned's eventual expulsion. 

Bruce Niles is reluctant to expose his insecurities about being gay or admit that he is an "activist," and is shocked that the name of their organization includes the word "gay" in it. Even his postman will know! Initially he expects this disease to "go away" and, being a conservative man, does not want to announce his status quite so openly. His approach is very different and his relationship with Ned is complicated and conflicted. Ned's initial advances make him very uncomfortable. Bruce will lead the organization because Ned is perceived as antagonistic, which will not help the cause, but Bruce is "timid"—which means that the organization is not as effective as it should be and is more of a "support group." Bruce is shocked but motivated after his friend Albert's death and treatment.   

Felix works for The New York Times and becomes Ned's partner. He was previously married and has a son whom his ex-wife won't let him see. He is potentially weak and can only show his support through entertainment news articles he writes. He will discover the purple lesions on his feet, revealing his AIDS, and he will die while Ned nurses him. 

Ned's brother Ben is the person Ned most seeks approval from. He is a successful lawyer and confirms that he loves his gay brother but he is more preoccupied about building his dream house than using his influential law firm to help Ned's cause. The brothers will be unable to settle their differences until after Felix's death.  

Dr. Emma Brookner wants to help Ned further the cause and stop the spread of the disease. She is a Polio sufferer and in a wheelchair and has always had to fight for her own rights. But convincing her gay patients that they will die if they do not speak out is proving almost impossible. She can only treat her patients and feels ineffective in making any long-term difference.  

All the characters are fighting a losing battle to highlight the dangers associated with this disease whether via direct and threatening methods, which Ned prefers, or quiet dialogue, which Bruce defends. The mayor will only help if they keep quiet, the newspapers won't acknowledge that there are real stories, and the characters themselves are perpetually scared.

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