Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 688
Beth Henley does not easily disclose the meaning of her play’s title. Instead, she requires that the audience search for the meaning in the characters. A paradox exists between the play’s title, Crimes of the Heart, and its genre, comedy. The characters constant references to illness, insanity, and incompetence suggests that the crime might be found in some form of incompleteness. The restoration of the sisters’ relationships with one another and Babe’s understanding of her mother’s suicide (a key event for all three sisters) emphasize that the work is indeed comedic, not tragic.
The MaGrath sisters would not be considered normal by most people, yet their ability to work out their problems demonstrates that they might be better than normal. Although these women lead challenging lives, they maintain uncomplicated attitudes toward life. Babe’s crime does not seem to change her quality of innocence; she is still the flirtatious and pampered little sister. Meg discovers that even though she failed as a singer in California, she has learned to care about someone other than herself. When Lenny overcomes her fear of rejection because of a physical problem (a shrunken ovary), she glows with young love. The sisters learn these things because they have been brought together on a “real bad day,” as Babe says. Each sister faces a seemingly insurmountable defeat at the beginning of the play but wins her battle because she has two sisters to support her.
Perhaps the crime that Henley speaks of is committed not by one of the MaGrath sisters but by their cousin, whose constant emphasis on the family’s social standing surpasses her ability for, or interest in, compassion. Although accepted by society as the most normal member of the family, Chick shows an insensitivity to her cousins that provides a comical contrast to the condemnation society presents the sisters. The MaGrath sisters are all guilty of some crime, legal or emotional—Babe’s shooting, Meg’s leaving of Doc Porter in a hurricane to go to California, and Lenny’s rejection of men because of a physical abnormality. Their initial reaction is to blame everything on their mother’s suicide. When Babe determines the reason for the suicide, they find a moment of joyous laughter. Babe’s epiphany seems to encourage them to take responsibility for their own lives, which is most clearly seen in Lenny’s decision to find a beau.
Although the situations portrayed in the play seem a bit unusual, there is an enchanting quality of realism. When Meg returns from her evening with Doc Porter to find her two sisters laughing about...
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