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Literature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaPerestroika Act 5 Scenes 1 3 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Perestroika, Act 5, Scenes 1–3 | Summary



Scene 1

In Prior's hospital room late at night, Prior wakes Hannah to say the Angel is near. (He can tell because he has an erection, though he does not mention that to Hannah.) The Angel appears; Prior demands she take back the book of prophecy. Prior asks Hannah what to do next; she advises him to wrestle the Angel and demand a blessing. Prior wrestles the Angel, tearing a muscle in the Angel's thigh.

A ladder with flaming Alephs (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) descends from Heaven. The Angel tells Prior to return the book to Heaven. Prior climbs the ladder and vanishes. The Angel and Hannah, remaining behind, share a kiss and Hannah has an orgasm.

Scene 2

Prior arrives in Heaven, which looks like San Francisco after the 1901 Earthquake. There he meets Harper, who is not dead, and his lost cat, Little Sheba. Harper says she has found the secret of the Mormon drive to migrate; "devastation" and the loss of love motivates people to move. Harper vanishes and the Angel appears.

Scene 3

Shortly after Roy's death, Belize asks Louis to come to the hospital room. Louis has a black eye from Joe's punch. Belize wants Louis to smuggle out Roy's stash of AZT pills and also recite the Kaddish for Roy. Louis balks; Belize says forgiveness is where love and justice meet. Louis recites the prayer. Unbeknownst to him, he is aided by Ethel Rosenberg, who adds a final blessing: "You sonofabitch."


The fact that Prior's erection is an "infallible barometer" for the approach of the Angel is comical, but it also signals the mixture of the spiritual and the material; whatever Prior's celestial vision is, it's not celibate or monkish; it is sexual. It is also significant that Hannah, a Mormon who has formed an unlikely friendship with Prior, is present when the Angel appears. She continues her transformation when she kisses the Angel and orgasms.

In a variation on the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel (referred to in Millennium Approaches, Act 2, Scene 2), when Prior wrestles with the Angel, she tears a muscle in her thigh. She is now like Prior, who also has a pain in his leg. They continue to change places, as Prior goes up to Heaven and the Angel remains on Earth long enough to kiss Hannah. Although the Angel is "hermaphroditically equipped," the characters regard her as female. Hannah had earlier remarked to Prior she found men "in any configuration" to be not "an appetizing notion." With the Angel's kiss and her (Hannah's) subsequent orgasm, she opens up to exploring queerness, whether literal or ideological.

The Heaven Prior finds in Scene 2 is somewhat like Belize's idea of Heaven as a ruined city. This scene again features people who may at first seem to have little in common, but who manage to connect in a surprisingly deep, even comforting, way. The scene may be imaginary (although in this play, it's hard to say for sure), but the sentiments it communicates are real and meaningful, transcending what is real or imaginary. Harper reminds Prior of his reason for refusing the "anti-migration" prophecy; people need to migrate. Harper and Prior have both suffered loss in love: Harper because of Joe's homosexuality and Prior because of Louis's abandonment of him in his time of need. Harper's theory that people migrate because of lost love could mean that failed love has a purpose too, possibly as a source of change.

Ethel was somewhat tender toward the dying Roy, and Belize also wants to treat him justly after his death, positing in Scene 3 that "maybe ... a queen can forgive her vanquished foe." He wonders if forgiveness "is where love and justice finally meet." Again, unlikely opponents in the play come to represent the possibility of some kind of peace, some kind of new common ground. Louis, who loathed Roy as much as Belize, breaks down and recites the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead recited by mourners. Louis and Ethel's blessing and curse to Roy ("you sonofabitch") is also a kind of reconciliation.

Belize and Louis taking Roy's AZT after his death represents the Reagan administration finally giving gay men what AIDS activists demanded in 1990, but did not receive in reality—medicine to cure AIDS. As the unwitting source of this bounty of AZT, Roy is a stand-in for the Reagan administration and what it failed to do in response to human suffering. In this way, Roy Cohn, who refused to see himself as part of the homosexual community, finally manages to help other homosexuals, albeit unintentionally, despite himself.

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