How do you understand the meaning of the angel in this play?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I tend to think that this is one of the critical issues that emerges in the drama.  I see the meaning of the angel as representative of the struggle with change that Kushner sees as intrinsic to identity.  In bringing the angel into the drama as someone who does not provide answers, but rather more questions, one sees that there is a natural sense of confusion in all beings when struggling to adapt to change.  All of the characters struggle with change in its many forms.  The descent of the angel at the end of Act I is almost a red herring in that one thinks that resolution and clarity will finally be offered in the form of something external.  Yet, as Prior finds out, the angels of the Continental Principalities are as confused and discombobulated about change and the pain it brings as much as any of the humans. Prior's repudiation of the role as the Prophet is confirmed when he argues that life, as miserable as it is, tends to be better when it accepts the condition of change as a part of its being.  In this way, humans are "not rocks."  The presence of the angel helps to illuminate how change is something unavoidable for all beings, including the divine.  When Harper sees human beings ascending to plug up the gaps in the ozone layer, it is almost a statement than rather than wait for angels to descend, human beings can strive to ascend in being more than they are in accepting change.  It is in this where I think that the angel has meaning in the play.  If the angel was not present, there would be an inclination to argue that divinity holds all of the answers, almost relinquishing any hope for human beings and the action they take.  Yet, this is where the inclusion of the angel brings out one of the play's major themes and humanizes it to a point where the complexity of the issues can be understood as being able to be appropriated and navigated, with varying degrees of success, by human beings.  The lack of the angel makes this difficult, which is why I see the function of the angel as one to bring out how human beings, in Kushner's mind, can bring some level of clarity to a situation that confuses, apparently, even the divine.

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Angels in America

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