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Literature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaMillennium Approaches Act 1 Scenes 3 4 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scenes 3–4 | Summary



Scene 3

Harper, home alone, talks to herself about the beauty of the ozone layer. As soon as she says she'd like to travel, a travel agent, Mr. Lies, appears. Harper recognizes him; he sold her a ticket from Salt Lake City to New York. He offers her a ticket to any destination, and Harper chooses Antarctica. Joe returns from a walk; his lateness makes Harper anxious. To apologize, he asks for a kiss. He asks her if she would like to move to Washington.

Scene 4

Louis and Prior talk outside the funeral home, preparing to go to the cemetery for the burial of Louis's grandmother, Sarah Ironson. Louis reveals he had not visited his aging grandmother for 10 years because she reminded him of his mother. Prior teases Louis about how straight he acts in front of his family. Prior shows Louis his Kaposi's sarcoma lesions and tells him he is sick and will die. He says he didn't tell Louis sooner because he was afraid Louis would leave him.


The Pitts are not wealthy—they live in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, where Joe works—and yet Harper lives like a stereotypical 1950s housewife—idle and neglected. However, Harper does not represent married women in general; her dissatisfaction comes from being married to a closeted gay man. She fills her empty time with drugs and illusions, possibly to escape her painful situation. This may be why she dreams of traveling to Antarctica—a distant, exotic location. Husband and wife both are in denial, and Joe's closeted status is mirrored by Harper's drug-induced illusions.

Harper recognizes Mr. Lies from Utah, not New York, so he is probably a product of her fantasy. It's important for Mr. Lies to appear early, while the play is still teaching the audience about its reality. Mr. Lies does not foreshadow the Angel's appearance, but he prepares the audience to accept that fantasies, delusions, and supernatural beings can appear in this play and act as an important commentary on the lives of its characters.

Joe's choice of words is telling when asking for a kiss: the phrase "buddy kiss" suggests that their love is sexless, hence "buddy." While the word kiss suggests intimacy, it is negated by the use of the term buddy.

In Scene 4, Prior teases Louis about how straight he acts in front of his family, which lets audience know Louis and Prior are gay. His teasing also touches on denial; Louis perhaps suppresses his sexual identity in front of his family. (And Prior identifies Louis's cousin Doris as a lesbian.) Prior's teasing is also a kind of intimacy. It's based on his observations of Louis over time, so it's more personal than Joe's stylized and mawkish "buddy kiss" with his wife, Harper, in the previous scene.

Act 1 is titled "Bad News," and this could apply to many characters, but in Scene 4, the audience gets the worst news of Act 1: Prior is sick with AIDS. He shows Louis his Kaposi's sarcoma, a dark purple lesion on his arm and says he is dying. Louis's reactions do not bode well for their relationship. He gets angry, shouting, "Fuck you," at Prior, and then he leaves. Louis has a good reason to go (his grandmother's burial), but Prior worries that he will not come home. This foreshadows Louis's abandonment of Prior at the hospital. AIDS brings two of the play's themes together—human suffering and denial. How characters respond to human suffering, whether their own or another character's, is an ongoing focus of the play.

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