Crimes of the Heart

by Beth Henley

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Characters Discussed

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Lenore (Lenny) MaGrath

Lenore (Lenny) MaGrath, the oldest MaGrath sister. The play is set on and around her thirtieth birthday. Lenny is a thoughtful, self-conscious woman who remains concerned about her critically ill grandfather and her own impending spinsterhood. She is protective of her sisters and eventually puts Chick in her place after Chick’s vitriolic attack on the MaGrath family. By the play’s end, she is encouraged to resume a relationship with Charlie Hill, a man who replied to Lenny’s advertisement in the personal section of a periodical. Her fear that he would reject her because of her missing ovary proves to be unfounded.

Meg MaGrath

Meg MaGrath, the middle MaGrath sister, twenty-seven years of age. Meg moved to Hollywood to pursue her singing career, abandoning her lover, Doc Porter, who was injured in a hurricane accident. She returns to be close to her sisters after Babe’s shooting of her husband. Although she is the most outgoing of the three sisters, she relates to Doc that her life in Hollywood had once led to a nervous breakdown and that she has lost her singing voice. One of the consequences of her return to Hazlehurst is a rekindling of her romance with Doc; another is the return of her singing voice.

Becky (Babe) Botrelle

Becky (Babe) Botrelle, the youngest MaGrath sister, at twenty-four years of age. Babe is the reason for most of the play’s dynamics. She shot her husband, Zackery Botrelle, after he discovered that she had been having an affair with Willie Jay, a fifteen-year-old black boy who came to Babe’s house to see the dog she tended for him. Babe is the most fragile of the sisters and thus most like their mother, who scandalously hanged herself and her cat years before the action of the play. Babe’s shooting of her husband is resolved in her favor, after Zackery circulates incriminating pictures and after Willie Jay is forced to leave town. Babe later attempts suicide with a rope and with gas. She discovers, as her mother did, that suicide is a lonely act and is relieved by her failure to succeed.

Chick Boyle

Chick Boyle, the twenty-nine-year-old first cousin of the MaGrath sisters. She has yellow hair, shiny red lips, and a brassy disposition. She is ashamed of Babe’s alleged crime and voices her shame frequently and indiscriminately. Chick finally goes too far when she berates Babe as a murderer and refers to all the MaGrath sisters as “trash.” Lenny drives her out of the house with a broom and forces her to climb the mimosa tree.

Doc Porter

Doc Porter, the thirty-year-old former boyfriend of Meg. Doc comes over to inform Lenny that her twenty-year-old horse, Billy Boy, had died from being struck by lightning. Doc remains infatuated with Meg, even after his marriage to another woman and the birth of his two children. They spend their first date after Meg’s return reminiscing about the past.

Barnette Lloyd

Barnette Lloyd, Babe’s twenty-six-year-old lawyer. Barnette is a graduate of the Old Miss law school who returns to Hazlehurst to open his own firm. Meg remains dubious of Barnette’s competence when she first meets him, but Barnette has a personal vendetta against Babe’s husband, formerly a state senator from Copiah County. Barnette hopes to uncover all of Botrelle’s criminal dealings. Barnette also remains fond of Babe and hopes to save her from her abusive husband and from any criminal charges.


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Babe Babe is the youngest MaGrath sister. At the start of the play, she has shot...

(This entire section contains 973 words.)

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her husband, Zackery, a powerful and wealthy lawyer. At first, the only explanation she gives for the act is the defiant statement: "I didn't like his looks! I just didn't like his stinking looks!" Eventually, she reveals that the shooting was the result of her anger at Zackery's cruel treatment both of her and of Willie Jay, a fifteen year-old African American boy with whom Babe had been carrying on an affair.

Babe makes two attempts to kill herself late in the play. After being rescued by Meg, Babe appears enlightened and at peace with her mother's suicide. Babe says she understands why their mother hanged the family cat along with herself; not because she hated it but because she loved it and "was afraid of dying all alone."

BeckySee Babe

Rebecca BotrelleSee Babe

Chick Boyle The sisters' first cousin, who is twenty-nine years old. She is a very demanding relative, extremely concerned about the community's opinion of her. When news is published of Babe's shooting of Zackery, Chick's primary concern is how she's "gonna continue holding my head up high in this community." Chick is critical of all aspects of the MaGrath's family and is always bringing up past tragedies such as the mother's suicide. Chick is especially hard on Meg, whom she finds undisciplined and calls a "low-class tramp," and on Babe, who "doesn't understand how serious the situation is" after shooting Zackery. Chick seems to feel closest to Lenny, and is genuinely surprised to be ushered out of the house for her comments about Lenny's sisters.

Barnette Lloyd Barnette is Babe's lawyer. An ambitious, talented attorney, Barnette views Babe's case as a chance to exact his personal revenge on Zackery. "The major thing he did," Barnette says, "was to ruin my father's life." Barnette also seems to have a strong attraction to Babe, whom he remembers distinctly from a chance meeting at a Christmas bazaar. Barnette is prevented from taking on Zackery in open court by the desire to protect Babe's affair with Willie Jay from public exposure. He is willing to make this sacrifice for Babe, and the play ends with some hope that his efforts will be rewarded.

Lenny MaGrath Lenny, at the age of thirty, is the oldest MaGrath sister. Her sisters have forgotten her birthday, only compounding her sense of rejection. Lenny is frustrated after years of carrying heavy burdens of responsibility; most recently, she has been caring for Old Granddaddy, sleeping on a cot in the kitchen to be near him. Lenny loves her sisters but is also jealous of them, especially Meg, whom she feels received preferential treatment during their upbringing. Meg has also been surrounded by men all her life, while Lenny has feared rejection from the opposite sex and become withdrawn as a result. She fears continuing the one romantic relationship, with a Charlie Hill from Memphis, which has gone well for her in recent years.

While almost continuously pushed beyond the point of frustration, Lenny nevertheless has a close bond of loyalty with her sisters. Chick is constantly criticizing the family (culminating in her calling Meg a "low-class tramp"); when Lenny is finally pushed to the point that she turns on her cousin, chasing her out of the house with a broom, this is an important turning point in the play. It demonstrates the ultimate strength of family bonds—and their social value—in Henley's play.

Meg MaGrath Meg is the middle sister at twenty-seven years of age. As an eleven year-old child, Meg discovered the body of their mother (and that of the family cat) following her suicide. This traumatic experience provoked Meg to test her strength by confronting morbidity wherever she could find it, including poring over medical photographs of disease-ridden victims and staring at March of Dimes posters of crippled children. At the beginning of the play Meg returns to Mississippi from Los Angeles, where her singing career has stalled and where, she later tells Doc, she had a nervous breakdown and ended up in the psychiatric ward of the county hospital.

The other MaGrath sisters share a perception that Meg has always received preferential treatment in life. When Lenny ponders "why should Old Grandmama let her sew twelve golden jingle bells on her petticoats and us only three?'' this is not a minor issue for her and Babe. The two sisters feel on some level that this special treatment has led Meg to act irresponsibly—as when she abandoned Doc, for whatever reason, after he was severely injured in the hurricane. Lenny is angry with Meg for lying to Old Granddaddy in the hospital about her career, but Meg states ' 'I just wasn't going to sit there and look at him all miserable and sick and sad!" Both Babe and Lenny are concerned when Meg disappears with Doc her first night back in Mississippi. Both sisters, however—especially Lenny—are also protective of Meg, especially from the attacks of their cousin Chick.

Rebecca MaGrathSee Babe

Doc Porter Doc is Meg's old boyfriend. He is still known affectionately as "Doc" although his plans for a medical career stalled and eventually died after he was severely injured in Hurricane Camille—his love for Meg (and her promise to marry him) prompted him to stay behind with her while the rest of the town evacuated the storm's path. Many people now have the perception (as Meg and Lenny discuss) that Meg "baited Doc into staying there with her." Doc, who now has his own wife and children, nevertheless remains close to the MaGrath family. Although Meg abandoned him when she left for California, Doc remains fond of her, and Meg is extremely happy to have his friendship upon her return from California.




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