HomeLiterature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaPerestroika Act 5 Scenes 46 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Perestroika, Act 5, Scenes 4–6 | Summary

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Summary

Scene 4

Joe returns to his Brooklyn apartment, looking for Harper. Roy appears and Joe confronts him about a lie: Roy had said he was dying of cancer, but the newspapers reported he died of AIDS. Joe tells Roy he hit someone; while talking to Roy, he realizes that Louis probably won't come back. Joe and Roy embrace and kiss. Roy says he has to leave, and he hopes he finds something to do in the afterlife. Harper returns.

Scene 5

The seven "Continental Principalities"—angels who represent the seven continents of Earth—meet in Heaven. (The Angel who has appeared to Prior represents the continent of America.) A broken-down radio broadcasts news of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. The Angel of Antarctica is saddened by the environmental damage. The angels cannot intervene to change events (or fix their own radio).

Prior arrives and tells them he wants to return the book. He says people can't stop moving and progressing. In addition he's angry with God for the suffering God's abandonment has caused and thinks the Angels should sue Him. Prior asks the angels to remove "the plague"; they have tried but cannot. Prior says he still wants his blessing and he wants to live. The Angel who has been visiting Prior replies saying there is more pain and suffering coming: the Apocalypse is near. Prior says he still "wants more life," and the angels can't see the future. He climbs back down the ladder to Earth.

Scene 6

Prior returns to his hospital bed, where it is morning. Prior tells Emily and Belize he had the most remarkable dream, adding "and you were there, and you." Hannah enters, as does Louis with his black eye. Louis points out that he now has external bruises. After the others leave, Louis announces he wants to come back to Prior, but Prior refuses to have him. Louis says the AZT pills will make Prior better. Prior replies the pills are poison and cause anemia; he comments, "This is my life, from now on."

Analysis

These scenes all focus on major transformations, especially for Joe and Prior. Possibly because of Louis's angry outburst about Joe's association with Roy Cohn, Joe is having second thoughts about Roy, accusing Roy's ghost of lying to him about having cancer. Joe also acknowledges hurting Louis and he feels terrible about it. No longer in quite the same state of denial about himself, about Roy, and perhaps about his own sexuality, Joe now questions the course of his life, and acknowledges that he feels differently about himself. He says to Roy's ghost: "I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do ... I'm ... above nothing. I'm ... of the world."

Roy and Joe reconcile with a kiss. Before their relationship was father and son, but now, kissing, they are more like lovers. Roy hopes to still be a busy man, even in the afterlife, but his embrace of Joe signals his transformation, too.

The seven Continental Principalities enter the play late, so they don't have any time to develop as characters. But there is one individuating note: Antarctica, just like Harper, is concerned about the environment. In making Prior's Angel the principality of America, Kushner seems to conflate America with the United States (thus ignoring Canada, Mexico, and all the countries of Central and South America). But the issue can be viewed the other way: perhaps the United States is merged in something greater than itself alone.

Prior demands a blessing—"more life"—from the Angels. The 30-year-old Prior sees AIDS as a death sentence. For Prior, the matter of the succession of generations is in upheaval: what are the stages of life for a 30-year-old on the brink of death? The Angel warns him that the Apocalypse is coming—more pain, more death, but Prior still chooses life despite the possibility of greater suffering to come. In the end, Prior could almost do without the angels' blessing; he doubts their powers, pointing out they can't see the future. He gains autonomy: he and other gay men will make their own future and their own blessing.

In Scene 6, Belize, Hannah, Emily, and Louis surround Prior. When Prior says, "you were there, and you, and you," he is again quoting The Wizard of Oz. These are the words Dorothy says when she wakes up in Kansas again, surrounded by three neighbors who are played by the same actors who played the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Woodman.

Like The Wizard of Oz, Angels in America makes use of doubled parts. The Angels in this scene are played by actors doing double-duty: the Angel Europa, for example, is played by the same actor who plays Joe, and so on. Doing this creates a bridge between what is real and what is otherworldly, just as the play attempts to forge a link between the realities of the AIDS crisis and the dream of a more compassionate, connected world. This may also be why Prior is surrounded by the people who will become his chosen family in the final scene: Hannah, Belize, and Louis.

Louis comments on the AZT pills, saying they'll make Prior "better." Prior's response deflects the notion of a cure, saying "This is my life now." In some ways, Prior has moved beyond life versus death to a sense that whatever happens is his life to live.

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