The Heidi Chronicles Themes
by Wendy Wasserstein

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

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Amid more than two decades of social change witnessed by her baby-boomer friends and acquaintances, Heidi’s chronic unhappiness emerges as one of The Heidi Chronicles’ most significant constants. It is certainly her most troubling character trait: Peter justifiably states that this sadness “seems a luxury” in comparison with the difficulties faced by AIDS victims and their loved ones; Heidi herself is puzzled by her feelings of worthlessness and isolation. By the end of the play, however, it is clear that her discontent emanates from a profound awareness that she is living in an era during which her cherished ideals have become as passe as any other trend embraced and then discarded by her peers.

As Scoop tells Heidi in the 1960’s: “You’ll be one of those true believers who didn’t understand it was just a phase.” Indeed, while her mild temperament precludes her becoming a radical activist, she devotes her career to advancing the cause of women in art, even when this sort of dedication is no longer in vogue among her friends. Susan, for example, distances herself from the movement’s concerns when she immerses herself in a business career in the 1980’s.

If Heidi’s feeling of estrangement from other women intensifies during the latter portion of the play, her lack of self-esteem, particularly in relation to Scoop, persists throughout the work. “I keep allowing this guy to account for so much of what I think of myself,” she admits to the encounter group three years after meeting him. Heidi’s feeling that men of her generation have a psychological edge over their female counterparts is evident as late as the last scene, when she envisions her daughter encountering Scoop’s son on a plane over Chicago. Hoping that her child “will never think she’s worthless unless he lets her have it all,” Heidi voices her dream for the future and thereby expresses her dissatisfaction with the present.

Although Heidi’s relationships with Susan and Scoop cool during the course of the drama, her friendship with Peter deepens with time. To be sure, Peter angers Heidi when, with Scoop, he prevents her from having her say on “Hello New York.” Yet the two are ultimately bonded by a friendship bulwarked by shared values: Neither of them will find contentment until conventional society changes to respect women and homosexuals as equals. While Scoop and Susan find their niches within the establishment, Heidi and Peter count themselves among the disenfranchised, for whom happiness, contingent on a change in mainstream values, seems remote.

Themes

(Drama for Students)

Success and Failure
Underlying much of the tension of The Heidi Chronicles is how success differs for men and women. Though it is known from the prologue of the first act that Heidi has a successful career as an art historian, the play focuses more on her success as a feminist and autonomous person; unlike the male characters, career success for Heidi does not equal a fulfilled life.

As Heidi’s generation demanded, she became an independent woman in a male-dominated world. Yet this success seems hollow to Heidi near the end of the play. She hoped that feminism would provide solidarity with her fellow women and offer signifi- cance in society, but her reality has proven this false. Her women friends have bought into superficial happiness and material success: Susan Johnston changes identities frequently, going from an idealistic law student to a feminist to a Hollywood power broker; she ultimately becomes disenchanted with the feminist cause and insensitive to her friend’s problems. Heidi also has little luck with men, sustaining no real lasting relationships and ultimately having her life choices shaped by them. Only in her decision to adopt a child does Heidi achieve an independent success.

From the play’s male perspective, Scoop and Peter are successful in a more traditional sense. Scoop has a long-term marriage, two children, a promising career as a lawyer and later as a publisher....

(The entire section is 1,445 words.)