HomeLiterature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaMillennium Approaches Act 1 Scenes 79 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scenes 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Scene 7

A week later, Harper and Prior appear to each other in a "mutual dream scene." Prior is in drag, doing his makeup. Harper tells Prior she's a Valium addict. Each has a supernatural ability to intuit the other's secret: Harper sees Prior is sick, and Prior tells her "your husband is a homo." Harper vanishes from the dream; Prior, now alone, has a visitation, the first of many in the play. He hears a heavenly voice telling him to "prepare the way" and proclaiming "Glory to." The voice breaks off without saying what is to be glorified.

Scene 8

That night, Prior and Louis talk about Prior's illness and how Louis is handling it. Louis makes a speech about Jewish and Christian concepts of judgment. Joe confronts Harper about her Valium use; Harper confronts Joe about his homosexuality. Harper also claims she is pregnant. Joe does not believe her, and Harper talks about the pregnancy in a way that casts doubt on it.

Scene 9

Roy's doctor, Henry, tells him he has AIDS. Roy taunts his doctor into saying the word homosexual; "Go on, Henry. It starts with an 'H'... and it isn't 'hemophiliac. '" But as soon as Henry says the word homosexual, Roy dismisses it. He says he is "a heterosexual man who fucks around with men," and he insists he has liver cancer, not AIDS. Henry points out no matter what Roy calls it, this "is very bad news."

Analysis

In Scene 7 the audience is being prepared to accept that events in the play can sometimes be otherworldly. In Harper's first hallucination or visitation, she saw someone she recognized, Mr. Lies, a travel agent she knew in Utah, although she is likely hallucinating him now. When Harper sees Prior, she says, "There must be some mistake here. I don't recognize you."

Prior is not just a transformed fragment of Harper's ordinary reality, like Mr. Lies. Instead, he is a stranger to Harper but seems to have somehow migrated into her hallucinations, taking them to a whole new level. Or is this his dream, since the play calls this a "mutual dream scene"? Whatever the case, this "mutual dream" connects Harper and Prior, who are strangers in real life, and provides an occasion for them to interact.

Astonishingly, each of them knows something intimate and secret about the other. Prior points out that Joe is gay, while Harper knows Prior is ill, suggesting that the dream world in which they meet is a place in which to confront uncomfortable truths they might rather deny, such as, "Your husband's a homo." In their "mutual dream scene," the characters may receive some comfort, too, as when Harper tells Prior that "deep inside [him]" is a part "entirely free of disease."

Just before Prior hears the heavenly voice, he comments on Harper's vanishing with a quotation from The Wizard of Oz: "People come and go so quickly here ..." Dorothy says this line after Glinda the Good Witch disappears. Prior in the dream world is thus positioned as Dorothy in Oz—innocent about the rules of a new and fantastical realm she is about to explore. On another level, quoting Dorothy is a gay reference; the coded phrase "friend of Dorothy" allowed gay men to identify each other without saying the words "gay" or "homosexual."

Scene 8 is a split scene, with Harper and Joe's confrontation alternating with Prior and Louis's. This is one of several split scenes Kushner wrote for Angels in America; characters in different locations and different storylines appear on the stage together, inviting the audience to compare the situations.

The split scene also solves a dramatic problem. Like a Shakespeare play or a Hollywood movie, Angels in America drives toward an ending in which many of the major characters are onstage together at the end. But the characters of Angels in America inhabit very different worlds; how would the Mormon housewife in Brooklyn cross paths with a gay man in the East Village? Without contriving new social relationships or arranging coincidences, Kushner's split scenes put different stories side by side on the stage, creating a relationship between them. In this case, both couples struggle with uncertainties in their relationships.

Harper begs Joe to tell her the truth about his homosexuality and wonders if it was "wrong" to marry him. He tries to steer the conversation toward her pill-popping, blaming it for their marital problems, but she insists he tell her the truth. He almost does but can't admit it. Harper's pregnancy is meant to keep him guessing about the truth, as well. Is she or isn't she pregnant? He is not sure.

Louis and Prior also have a showdown about the state of their relationship. By asking what would happen if he "walked out," Louis shows that on some level he has already left; the actual breakup with Prior will just be a detail. Prior answers "yes" to Louis's question about the proposed breakup: "Would you hate me forever?" The relationship clearly cannot last long once it has devolved into a hostile situation, but Louis has yet to walk out permanently.

Louis contrasts the finality of his concept of Christian judgment—damned or saved—with his concept of Jewish judgment. He says what should matter are "the questions and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged, and considered," rather than "some stamp of salvation or damnation ... the balancing of the scales." Louis's words also resonate with the lives of people with AIDS; are they to be reduced to only their deaths? His concept of judgment also applies to plays; can they present life in "its total complexity"?

After receiving the AIDS diagnosis from his doctor, Henry, Roy makes an intricate argument for staying in the closet and perpetuating his denial of his situation. He is not afraid of homosexual acts and admits that he "has sex with men;" he just rejects the low social standing of homosexuals in society—they lack power in "the pecking order" of society. As a successful man with "clout," he will not identify with homosexuals, whom he considers to have "zero clout." Thus, he denies that he has AIDS because, "AIDS is what homosexuals have" and insists that he has liver cancer instead. Roy cannot claim a post-gay identity; he hasn't gone through the work of coming out, and neither has the nation yet recognized its homosexual citizens as equals. If there is a way out of homosexual stigma in Angels in America, it is through claiming the gay identity Roy rejects.

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