HomeLiterature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaPerestroika Act 4 Scenes 5 8 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Perestroika, Act 4, Scenes 5–8 | Summary

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Summary

Scene 5

Belize and Louis meet in Central Park near Bethesda Fountain, which is topped by a statue of an angel. Louis wants to disavow his attachment to Joe. Belize has news for Louis: Joe is Roy Cohn's protégé. Belize's word for Joe is "buttboy," though he says he doesn't know whether they've had sex. The implication is that Joe is there to be used by Roy as he desires. Louis claims Belize has always been in love with Prior. Belize replies he is not, and has a man of his own; Louis just never asked. Belize criticizes the way Louis idealizes America.

Scene 6

Hannah and Joe meet at the Mormon Visitors' Center, at last. Hannah scolds Joe for not communicating with her and Harper. They quarrel and Joe leaves. Prior has been following Joe, and he enters the visitors' center just after Joe leaves. He learns Hannah is Joe's mother. Prior is unwell and he collapses. Hannah helps him get a cab to the hospital.

Scene 7

Harper is out in the rain without shoes. Joe meets her and tells her he's back. Harper seems unhinged; she speaks of Judgment Day and fire. Harper and Joe go home together.

Scene 8

Hannah and Prior arrive at the hospital, where Emily examines Prior. Ever since the angelic visitation and the message about staying still, Prior has been on the move. He has run himself "into the ground." Prior confides in Hannah: he has seen an angel. Prior asks if prophets can refuse their visions. Hannah mentions Jonah, swallowed by the whale, but then she says yes, prophets can refuse their vision. Prior asks Hannah to stay with him until he falls asleep, and she agrees.

Analysis

Louis and Belize's meeting in Scene 5 highlights two different views of America. Belize reveals how limited Louis is. He left Prior for Joe, a man he barely knew and who turns out to be Roy's protégé. Louis mistakenly thinks Belize is in love with Prior, not realizing Belize has a boyfriend of his own. According to Belize, Louis is out of touch with reality and stands only for empty "Big Ideas."

This sets up Belize's commentary on America: "It's just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like [Louis]." Louis's abandonment of Prior, his self-pity, and his failure to understand what is happening to people around him represent America's neglect of its own people through its lack of compassion and inclusion. For Belize, America is more like Roy Cohn in the hospital, "terminal, crazy and mean." The focus on grand ideas of democracy, freedom, and equality does not translate to the AIDS crisis.

Hannah and Joe's conversation reveals his desire to help Harper, but also his continuing confusion about how to come to terms with his sexuality. When Hannah asks him if what he told her about being gay during his phone call to her from Central Park is true or not, he tells her he doesn't want to discuss it ("Not now"). As mother and son struggle to understand each other, the differences between them are evident. Nonetheless, Hannah makes it clear that she wants to help Harper and Joe. She also intimates that she wants to know the truth about Joe's homosexuality, rather than avoiding it as he does. Hannah may have unexpected resources of compassion and understanding.

Harper and Joe's reconciliation in Scene 7 serves mainly to prepare for a future, more final breakup later in the play. Harper's mention of Judgment Day, in which God judges humanity at the end of the world, sets up the notion of a final reckoning or restructuring of the world, suggesting a big change may be coming. Both Harper and Joe, and Louis and Prior, will reaffirm their breakups in the final act, just before many of the major characters reconfigure as a kind of adoptive queer family.

In Scene 8, Prior has run as far as he can and is ready to find a new way out of his role as prophet. Hannah, as an adherent of an American religion, a relatively new religion, is his spiritual and theological guide in these uncharted waters. Most notable is the ability of a gay man with AIDS and a middle-aged Mormon woman to communicate with each other across the divide of religious, gender, and sexual difference. Hannah insists, "You don't make assumptions about me, mister; I won't make them about you." Both stay true to this philosophy throughout their conversation. This is the answer to Louis's question about how a fundamentalist religion can survive in a secular democracy.

Both also feel free to discuss very personal issues surprisingly frankly with each other. Prior discusses the Angel and his desire to refuse the prophecy, and Hannah admits to Prior that "my son is ... well, like you," meaning homosexual. In fact, Hannah shows the compassion to Prior that Louis could not in response to Prior's AIDS. When Prior shows her the lesions now covering his chest, she responds, "It's a cancer. Nothing more. Nothing more human than that." Prior asks Hannah to stay with him as he falls asleep because she "comforts [him]."

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