(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Larry Kramer’s landmark play, The Normal Heart, chronicles major events in the early years of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic in New York City. The play’s 1985 production at the Public Theatre riveted the attention of diverse audiences to the devastation of the new disease. As an instrument of political rhetoric and as a classically structured drama, The Normal Heart has power to move emotions and change minds.

In the summer of 1981, Ned Weeks visits Dr. Emma Brookner, who is treating virtually all the gay men in New York afflicted with rare, immune system-related diseases. Brookner has heard of Ned—and his “big mouth.” She is looking for a gay man to lead in this new crisis; she urges him to express his anger toward those in power who are apathetic and to convince gay men to stop engaging in sexual activity. She believes the disease is spread through sex.

Ned begins to act, exploring the failure of The New York Times to cover the epidemic adequately. In so doing, he meets a gay reporter, Felix Turner, to whom he is immediately attracted. A key relationship in the play is between Ned and his brother Ben, a lawyer. Although Ned is impatient with his brother’s reluctance to help the organization Ned has formed in response to the epidemic, it is clear that what Ned wants most from Ben is unconditional acceptance and love.

As Ned and Felix grow closer, Ned’s organization...

(The entire section is 436 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 825 words.)