HomeLiterature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaMillennium Approaches Act 3 Scenes 57 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Millennium Approaches, Act 3, Scenes 5–7 | Summary

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Summary

Scene 5

Joe comes to Roy's brownstone to tell him he can't take the Washington job; it's unethical. Joe offers other excuses: he has also been in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer, and his wife is "missing." Roy is at first indifferent and then angry. Roy tells Joe of his proudest achievement: securing the death penalty for convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg by illegally talking to the judge about the case outside of court. As Joe leaves, Roy urges him to "transgress a little." The solitary Roy then collapses in pain from abdominal cramps related to AIDS, and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg visits him. Roy is scornful of Ethel; she calls him an ambulance.

Scene 6

Prior 1 and Prior 2 visit Prior, who has gathered garlic and other charms to ward off heavenly visitations. The dead Priors tell him "tonight's the night" and urge him to dance. They bring him a dance partner, Louis. The dead Priors leave, and then Louis and Prior dance. Louis vanishes and Prior dances alone.

Scene 7

In a split scene Prior has a vision while Joe and Louis talk in the park. Alone at night in his bedroom, Prior speaks prophetically, as if possessed. Louis and Joe meet as if by accident in Central Park; Joe says he followed Louis from work. Joe makes the first move, reaching to touch Louis's face. Louis invites him home. Prior hears a sound of beating wings; his bedroom lights up. The Angel crashes through his bedroom ceiling and announces the "Great Work begins."

Analysis

Joe and Roy are both stricken with stomach pains. When ill fortune descends in this play, it strikes characters in the gut. Roy had said that politics was "intestinal," and "bowel-movement and blood-red meat." With Roy's stomach cramps, Kushner has found a way to dramatize the invisible: a virus cannot be seen, but doubling over in pain can. Moreover, Roy's earlier comment about "intestinal" politics means the gut is the core of life for him, the center of his vitality and power in the world. For Roy to collapse in this way means things are very bad for him indeed.

Roy continues to try to dominate Joe, insulting him viciously when Joe refuses the job in Washington on ethical grounds ("I would give anything to protect you, but ... There are laws I can't break."). He calls Joe "Mary Jane," "a sissy," and denigrates Joe's relationship with Harper ("I warned you about her, didn't I, Joe?"). Roy defines his power by his ability not "to be nice," but rather, to be "effective." This can take the form of deciding the fate of others. As he says, he has "forced [his] way into history."

Like Prior, Roy has a visitation from the dead, but in his case it is none other than the woman whose death he claims responsibility for. Ethel Rosenberg and her husband, Julius Rosenberg, were members of the Communist Party who passed American military secrets to the Soviets. They were convicted of espionage and sentenced to death in 1951. Controversy arose about their death sentence due to improprieties and biases against during the Rosenberg's trial, but the couple was executed in 1953. Ethel became the first woman to be executed in the U.S. since 1865. In the play, Roy, decidedly anti-Communist, gleefully describes how he influenced a judge illegally to sentence Ethel Rosenberg to death. He has no regrets about doing so.

While she is icy toward him, Ethel calls an ambulance when she sees Roy is in pain. Instead of being vengeful, she actually attempts to help him. Like Prior 1 and 2, she alerts him that "history is about to crack wide open. Millennium approaches." Roy and Prior are very different people, but they share the same diagnosis of AIDS. Now they also share the knowledge that a cataclysmic change is on the way, suggesting that there is a link between their disease and the monumental shift that is about to occur.

Even though Louis is gone, Prior 1 and Prior 2 arrange to have him dance with present-day Prior in Scene 6. Louis could simply be a figment of Prior's imagination because Prior misses him after their breakup. But Prior's experience is also transcendent—it moves beyond reality into another world, perhaps an alternate reality. His ancestors grant Prior a glimpse of this world in which his leg does not ache and his love is returned. Louis's definition of judgment in Act 1, Scene 8 as a "total complexity gathered, arranged, and considered" could also define the play as a whole: in Angels of America, even affliction with AIDS contains moments of grace.

Befitting a play in two parts, the end of Millennium Approaches is also a beginning. Thus when the Angel finally appears to Prior, she greets him as "Prophet." A prophet is someone who speaks the word of God to others. A prophet may also refer to someone who can predict the future. The Angel also says, "the Great Work begins," although what that "Great Work" consists of remains unclear at this point to Prior or to the audience.

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