An Exploration into the Concept of a Single Protagonist in Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart

An Exploration into the Concept of a Single Protagonist in Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart

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An Exploration into the Concept of a Single Protagonist in Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart

The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary traces the origins of the word protagonist to the Greek, an ancient term describing an individual who struggled against anguish, one who competed in games, one who leads. The rest of the definition, one more contemporary, asserted that a protagonist was the principal character in a literary work (as a drama or story) or a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause, a champion. The dictionary suggests that the word agony correlated with the word protagonist, and supports and expands its definition. Mirriam-Webster explains that agony is an intense pain of mind or body, a violent struggle or contest that precedes death. The etymology of the word agony is directly linked with the word protagonist, each being linked with the idea of a contest, a gathering, and leadership. By this definition, Maria Irene Fornes has created a single entity as protagonist in her play Fefu and her Friends. However, many dramas tend to follow the action and leadership of two people, if not more. The central ideas and actions in theatre do not always revolve around a single entity, and the struggle is not always limited to one person. This much is evident in plays such as Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart, when three sisters struggle against personal demons as well as societal ones. Brazilian dramatic theorist Augusto Boal argues that everyone is a protagonist, that art is not separate of life, but theatre is an expression and an exchange of ideas. To act and to take action are not separate from each other, ideas which are expressed in Fefu and her Friends when Emma says "Life is theatre. Theatre is life. If we're showing what lif...

... middle of paper ... linking their educational backgrounds. They all went to the same college, except Christina, yet the implication is that she is of a similar educational past. Furthermore, their minds are linked when they share dream experiences.
Throughout the play, the women touch upon different ideas, experiences, feelings that are not really individual but universal to women as a whole. The experiences are broken up among the characters, the relationship between Cecilia and Paula, the persecution of Julia, the desire to be masculine to Fefu, etc., so that the experience is shared, not individual. Women as a whole then are the protagonist of Fefu and her Friends, identifying no one individual or problem as the principal problem or leader.


Fornes, Maria Irene; Fefu and her Friends; John Hopkins University Press, Maryland, 1978


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