Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: The Consequences Of Following Ideals

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

There are various factors working together to encourage people to change. Tony Kushner describes a character’s behaviour that underlies the consequences of homosexuality and religion. ​Angels In America: a Gay Fantasia on National Themes​ is a two-part play that holds a strong focus on values and morals that inspire change. Kushner discusses aspects of religious and personal values and whether they have a certain significance or lead to difficulties. This essay discusses the potential standard of questionable values proposed in the play by Joe Pitt and Roy Cohn.

Kushner implies that for those who obey religious ideals, the standards act as guidelines. He brings this point across with Joe. A Mormon who used religious standards to fight against the ‘wrong or ugly’ (Kushner 40) and adjusted his behavior to seem ‘decent’ and “Correct” (Kushner 41) Further on, Joe also speaks about a photograph in which ‘Jacob wrestles with the angel’ (Kushner 51) Kushner discusses this to indicate that Jacob is Joe’s projection. Fighting the flesh that does not adhere to his religious ideals. Joe goes on to say that “losing means your soul is thrown down in the dust, your heart torn out from God’s” (Kushner 52) which means that losing or, in other words, being tempted goes against one’s ideals.

Kushner argues that while religious values help guide people the right way to live happier lives as a sort of road map. However, he suggests that those same individuals who live up to these religious standards of perfection are most susceptible to temptation and change, leading to them living miserable lives. Kushner illustrates this very closely with Joe who followed these exact ideals and although he is a respectable man he is not happy. “I graduated fourth in my class and I make less than anyone I know.” (Kushner 23) Joe who’s been working extremely hard and doing everything right to get where he’s now, but he’s not happy because he feels he’s missing a big part of his life.

Joe’s internal struggles over what is wrong on the inside is shown: “No matter how wrong or ugly that thing is, so long as I fought, with everything I have to kill it […] As long as my behaviour is what I know it has to be” (Kushner 40) Kushner’s specific word use suggests that he is battling the ‘wrong’ inside him, but only because of the religious ideals that dictate that he should do so. Joe seems to hide the fact that he’s a homosexual. When his wife Harper asks him, he responds; “what if I… No. I’m not. I don’t see what difference it makes” (Kushner 38) This is a persistent problem with his wife Harper. The struggle to suppress his sexuality reveals verbal conflicts with his wife and mother. Kushner is providing an example of how religious principles not only cause challenges in how a person lives, but also in the struggle and difficulty for others around the individual.

In addition, Kushner promotes consideration of highly desirable personal goals. He introduces this concept with Roy Cohn. Roy, who is a character in the play, but served in the Regan administration in the eighties was also a real person. Despite being extremely homophobic and working consciously under a homophobic administration.

Roy Cohn was a closeted homosexual and subsequently died of AIDS. Roy agrees with the view that politics is one of the driving factors that affected all aspects of religion and homosexuality. When explaining his intentions to Joe, Roy suggests that relying on himself alone is the great amount of power he has achieved: “Learn at least this: What you are capable of. Let nothing stand in your way” (Kushner 61) Roy advises getting rid of everything that holds him back is essential in order to achieve his goals of power, expressing that: “Life is full of horrors: nobody escapes, nobody: save yourself whatever pulls on you, whatever needs from you, threatens you. Don’t be afraid; people are so afraid; don’t be afraid..” (Kushner 61) Roy is both entirely accurate and off base. He’s correct in his interpretation of American life’s specific tragedies in the 1980s. Roy has gained wealth and power, but only to the detriment of certain elements of his identity. Roy is conscious that he is out of the spotlight after being diagnosed with AIDS and fell ill, and all his ‘colleagues’ have disappeared together with his real power. He’s courageous in his ability to deal with this. However, in his advice to Joe, he encourages intense selfishness. Roy believes that a person just needs to look out for himself and be alone rather than connected to others. This unreasonable at-all-cost attitude of individualism characterized much of the 1980s and is part of the overall decline of the social network, government security network, and community.

Kushner deliberately reveals Roy’s understanding of the world in the scene where Roy confronts his doctor. Roy explains that he has no interaction with other homosexual men as he sits on the right hand of the president and his wife. Values such as love, honour and trust are irrelevant from Roy’s perspective. All human relationships can be measured by granted favours. Roy believes that since he has a social position that grants him power, he can’t be called homosexual. “Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through city council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout.” (Kushner 46) This quotation shows how homosexuals are generally considered by American society. Homosexuals were not even regarded as human beings for the general population, they were considered nobodies or indicators of morally corrupt behavior. They were human beings who had no power or influence and are ignored or despised by those around them. Due to this indifference, hatred, and discrimination, Kushner acknowledges that homosexuals often have to live on the margins of society or choose to remain hidden, fearing how those around them would react. Roy doesn’t want any part of this and refuses to fully accept his identity.

Additionally, Roy displays a strong masculine character with “clout” (Kushner 46). He claims he’s a strong powerful man. The concept of how a male will behave with strength, confidence, and fearlessness. As a politician, Roy attempts to live up to the standard of what society thinks a strong man should be and how he should act. Roy refuses to admit that he has AIDS and is a homosexual when he is informed by his doctor’s description, Roy tells his doctor, “You think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with, but they don’t tell you that.” (Kushner 46) He argues that his identity is not homosexual due to their lack of ‘clout”. (Kushner 46)

Roy, similarly to Joe attempted to live up to society’s standards, Joe followed a deeply religious path while Roy remained on the track of being a hard-headed and courageous man. Roy dies in his final scenes, bringing to his death bed his lack of humanity. Belize explains “[Roy] was a terrible person. He died a hard death. So maybe… A queen can forgive her vanquished foe. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t count if it’s easy, it’s the hardest thing. Forgiveness.” (Kushner 265) . Roy sought the American dream of wealth and power, consequently, he was exposed to temptation and corruption. Roy dies understanding, although he has achieved all his personal goals of power, he has led an unconditionally miserable life.

In both cases, Kushner writes about the flawed homosexual character, while establishing a correlation between religious and personal interests and articulating to the audience that the suffering that follows is not worth living up to the values of society.

Work Cited

  1. Kushner, Tony. ​Angels in America: a Gay Fantasia on National Themes​. Nick Hern Books Limited, 2017.

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