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Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Perestroika, Act 2, Scenes 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Scene 1

Belize and Prior attend a friend's funeral, a grand affair thrown for a drag queen. Prior is dressed like a biblical prophet. Belize is uplifted by the riotous ceremony; Prior is not. Prior tells Belize his encounter with the Angel was real.

Scene 2

As Prior tells Belize the story of his meeting with the Angel, the scene shifts to Prior's bedroom where the Angel appears. At first Belize watches from the street, and then he joins them in Prior's apartment. The Angel refers to "Sacred Prophetic Implements" Prior's dreams should have revealed to him, but Prior has had no such dreams. The Angel revises the prophetic text in response. Prior has an erection, as he usually does when the Angel appears, and they have ecstatic intercourse. Belize is shocked that Prior had sex with a woman; Prior remarks that the Angel is "hermaphroditically equipped" with multiple vaginas and penises. He has also learned from the Angel that God is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, an aleph, and that angels' cum helps produce protomatter, the source of Creation itself.

The Angel brings Prior magical spectacles to read a book with steel pages. Prior reads that Angels are marvelous and powerful, but, unlike humans, they lack imagination and do not live in time. God became more interested in his humans than in angels and eventually abandoned Heaven. The steel book reveals the angels' message: humans should stop progressing, so that God will return. Human progress causes change and upheaval in Heaven. Prior is to be the prophet of "stasis," of standing still.

Scene 3

With the end of Prior's tale, Prior and Belize reappear in the park. Prior doesn't want to bear the Angel's message, but he says he has no way of resisting, "Except to run."

Analysis

According to the theory of American exceptionalism, the United States is in a unique position among nations due to the nation's special emphasis on freedom, democracy, and individuality. This means that America also has a unique mission—to promote freedom and democracy throughout the world.

The Angel's message could be called "human exceptionalism." The Angel reveals that humans are special in comparison to the angels. Humans live in time, and are therefore mortal. Humans can also imagine and create new things. Thus Angels in America makes a parallel: among exceptional humans in the exceptional United States, perhaps gay men's confrontation with AIDS gives them an exceptional access to transcendence, to going beyond known limits. Queerness, however, is larger than sexuality alone. Queerness suggests transcending borders of all kinds, breaking social and religious conventions and imagining new ways of being, and most of the major characters in Angels in America are forced to confront these boundaries and either transform and grow (as Joe does) or grow more intense in their refusal to change and die (as Roy does).

The Angel's point, however, is that humans should stop their exceptional activity: stop migrating, stop progressing. Migration and progress only serve to create upheaval in Heaven and caused God, "bored with his Angels" but "bewitched by Humanity," to abandon Heaven entirely. Prior understandably balks at being the messenger of "stasis," who will bring the news that progress in gay liberation (and all other human progress) must stop.

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