The Normal Heart

by Larry Kramer
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 142

The Normal Heart is a play about the AIDS pandemic and its effect on the community when it first entered the scene in the 1980s. In the play, we see how the New York government was slow in responding to the disease. The public didn't know much about the disease and only direct victims, mostly gay men and their lovers, were interested in finding a remedy for this epidemic. Despite the general lack of interest, there are few people who actually care, for example, Dr. Emma Brookner, who is conducting research on the disease. The play also shows an unfamiliar side of the homosexual community. Through such characters as Ned and Felix, the author shows that same-sex couples go through the same relationship problems as heterosexual ones. All in all, it's a great read for anyone interested in the history of AIDS.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 825

Ned Weeks visits Dr. Emma Brookner’s office because he is interested in writing a journalistic story about a strange, new disease called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. This disease is responsible for the symptoms experienced by two of Ned’s gay associates. While Ned has a physical exam, Emma tells him what she knows about the disease: It has already killed some of her patients, it seems to strike gay men, and the press has not paid much attention to it. She tells Ned that he should get the word out and urge gay men to stop having sex; she thinks the disease might be transmitted though sex.

Ned visits Felix Turner’s desk at The New York Times because he wants him to inform the public about the disease by writing about it. The request makes Felix uncomfortable; he is gay, but is not open about his sexual orientation. Ned also visits his brother, Ben, hoping that Ben’s law firm will support an organization Ned had helped to start, an organization intended to raise money and provide information about AIDS.

Felix and Ned have their first date at Ned’s apartment, where Ned compares the press’s lack of interest in AIDS to its lack of interest in Adolf Hitler’s extermination of the Jews during World War II. Felix and Ned become lovers.

Several members of Ned’s AIDS organization meet. Bruce Niles is appointed president of the organization, although Ned is clearly interested in the office. When the members learn about Felix, Ned’s new boyfriend, Tommy Boatwright is disappointed because he is romantically interested in Ned; Bruce Niles is relieved because Ned had made unwanted advances toward him.

Ned visits his brother’s law office again. This time he wants to see if Ben would serve on the organization’s board of directors. Ben declines, and the brothers part angrily.

Ned discusses his frustrations about the AIDS organization with Felix. The organization’s board of directors thinks Ned is creating a panic about the disease and using the disease to make himself into a celebrity. Felix reveals to Ned that he has a purple lesion, one of the symptoms of AIDS, on his foot. Ned meets with Emma, who once again tells him that gay men must be told to stop having sex—to stop the spread of AIDS. Ned tells her that Felix is sick and she agrees to see him the next day.

Although New York City government officials agree to meet with officials of Ned’s AIDS organization, the mayor’s assistant, Hiram Keebler, is two hours late in keeping the appointment. The mayor of New York refuses to help give the organization office space, press the national government to fund research on the disease, or insist that The New York Times cover the disease. Ned becomes angry about the city’s slow response to AIDS and verbally attacks Hiram, while Bruce tries to be diplomatic. Ned criticizes Bruce for being such a weak leader.

Emma tells Felix that he has an early case of AIDS, and she explains to him how she will care for him. She cannot answer Felix’s questions about whether or not the disease could infect Ned.

Volunteers of the organization are busy answering hotline phones. The list of gay men who have died from AIDS has grown, yet Mickey Marcus and others are angry with Ned’s argument that gays should stop having sex. Mickey becomes worried that he might lose his job at the City Department of Health because the gay men’s organization has been putting pressure on the mayor’s office. Exhausted and angry, he attacks what he considers to be Ned’s regressive ideas about gay men’s sexuality. Bruce tells Ned that Bruce’s lover, Albert, has died of AIDS.

Emma becomes angry with the Examining Doctor after learning that the federal government has allotted only five million dollars for AIDS research, a small sum compared to what the government is capable of funding, and that her own funding for research has been denied.

Ned pickets the mayor’s office and hears that the mayor finally will meet with members of the organization. Then Bruce reads Ned a letter stating that the board of directors wants Ned to quit the organization he had cofounded. Wishing to remain in the organization, Ned delivers a passionate speech about how gay culture must be recognized for something besides sex.

Felix is very ill and depressed; he refuses to eat. Ned, who had been trying to reason with and care for Felix, finally gets angry with his lover. He throws food on the floor. After fighting, the two embrace.

Felix and Ben meet for the first time. Ben helps Felix make out a will leaving everything, including a piece of land, to Ned. With Ben present, Emma marries Ned and Felix before Felix dies. Ned and Ben are reconciled.

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