Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 663
Crimes of the Heart is a play in three acts about three sisters—Lenny MaGrath, Meg MaGrath, and Babe Botrelle—who find life to be too difficult sometimes but who discover the courage and strength to overcome the “real bad days.” As a dysfunctional family living in a small Southern town, the MaGrath sisters unite to fight one another’s battles against an abusive husband, a failing career, and a sick, domineering grandfather. The secret to handling the really tough days lies in an understanding of their mother’s suicide. As they reminisce about their childhood, they discover that their friendship binds them together so that they are not alone.
Nothing seems to be going well for these sisters. Lenny’s birthday has been forgotten by everyone except her snobby cousin Chick, who gives her a box of candies from last Christmas. Claiming that she does not like her husband’s looks, Babe shot her husband and has just been released on bail. Unfortunately, her husband has pictures of her and Willie Jay, a fifteen-year-old African American boy with whom she was having an affair. Although the most joyous moment seems to be Meg’s first return to Hazlehurst in five years, she admits that her singing career in California was a failure that she has been working in a dog food factory.
The MaGrath sisters are consumed by their mother’s suicide, in which she hanged both herself and her cat, for which they can find no reason. All of them believe that a connection exists between their current troubles and this tragic event. At first, insanity seems to be the cause of their problems: Meg accuses Lenny of being obsessed with having a shrunken ovary, Lenny accuses Babe of being sick in the head, and Meg admits to having spent time in a psychiatric ward. Even though they think that they are peculiar, the sisters realize that they have one thing in common with the rest of humanity: the need to talk about problems, which Meg describes as a human need at the end of act 1. The ability to communicate with others will serve as a foundation for understanding their struggles. The MaGrath sisters strengthen their bond as Babe explains her reasons for shooting her husband, a bond that will eventually lead them to a revelation concerning their mother’s suicide.
The second act provides a closer look at Lenny, Meg, and Babe. Babe remains the incorrigible flirt even when discussing the details of her husband’s shooting. Meg attempts to maintain her loose reputation by going out with a married man rather than spending the evening playing cards with her sisters. Lenny’s motherly concern for her wayward sisters, as she offers unwanted advice to Meg, illustrates her loneliness and frustration about staying home to take care of their grandfather.
The first two acts provide solid background for the third one. Although it opens with sorrow, it ends with joy. The sisters’ grandfather suffers another stroke while Meg is out all night with a now-married former boyfriend, Doc Porter. Babe’s husband threatens to have her institutionalized. Then, Meg happily announces that nothing happened between her and Doc. Lawyer Barnette Lloyd tells Babe that he plans to cut a deal with her husband, so she will not be tried for attempted murder. Lenny decides to call her lost love for a date, and he gladly accepts. Among all this rejoicing, surprisingly, Babe unsuccessfully attempts to kill herself. Her failed suicide attempt becomes the key to explaining their mother’s suicide. Babe realizes that her mother killed herself not because she suffered from a broken heart or family problems but because she was having a “real bad day” and that she hanged the cat too so she would not be alone. Babe’s epiphany proves to be the tie that binds the MaGrath sisters at the end of the play as they finally...
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