Places Discussed

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*New York City

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*New York City. This play uses many real locations in and around New York City, such as the East Village, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn Heights. However, the most important of these exterior settings is Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, a large fountain with a statue called the Bethesda Angel. It is a place around which New Yorkers like to relax, talk, and play music. This final setting of the play suggests that spiritual forces have aligned themselves to produce a new lease on life for him.

The other important New York venue is one that is interior, namely the hospital or sickrooms of two men suffering from AIDS. One room is that of Prior Walter, the other is Roy Cohn’s. Both rooms are often transformed, however, into spaces for hallucinations and visions, especially the appearance of an august, opalescent, winged angel who crashes into Prior’s room to declare him a prophet and charge him with a great mission.

Other worlds

Other worlds. These include an imaginary Antarctica, supernatural levels of reality, and various versions of the Afterworld, ranging from a bleak hell to a gathering place for worried angels heavily invested in the outcome of life on earth.

*Salt Lake City

*Salt Lake City. Capital of Utah and headquarters of the Mormon church, this venue and the characters in the play who come from there suggest a mainstream midwestern conservative perspective.

Historical Context

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History, both the near and distant past, echoes throughout Angels in America. Prior's ancestors from the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries return to herald the arrival of the Angel. The complex evolution of philosophies, political systems, and religions (such as the Jewish and Mormon faiths) over the years are discussed and debated in the context of the characters' current struggles. The most important era to the play, however, is the one in which it is set: the 1980s.

Often characterized as a decade of greed, conservative politics, and negligent middle-class social policies, the 1980s are an indelible imprint on the plot and characters of Angels in America. From Roy, Martin, and Joe, who directly serve the Republican tide that washed across the country during the "Me" decade (so named for the self-centered behavior that was tolerated, even encouraged, by 1980s American culture), to Prior, Louis, and Belize, all somehow victims of straight, white America and the AIDS crisis, Kushner's work is an unmistakable product of its time.

The Political 1980s
Angels in America is steeped in politics, particularly influenced by the platforms of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan, Republican President of the United States from 1980-1988, is mentioned often in Kushner's play. He is the era's most recognizable political icon, and the success or failure of economic and political policies from the 1980s is usually attributed to his administration. Reagan's far-reaching economic policies, termed "Reaganomics," were an attempt to correct many of the economic and social problems Americans had been experiencing since the 1970s, when many felt the country had lost its confidence.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Americans found renewed interest in ecological awareness and demanded that industry take steps to save the imperiled environment. This led congress to pass strict measures that forced American companies to divert profits to environmental controls and cleanup, reducing their ability to modernize and compete with less regulated foreign companies. At the same time, the cost of gas and oil was skyrocketing, unemployment reached 7.1 percent, and the inflation rate soared to 12.5 percent.

America was not doing any better abroad, where the Cold War seemed to be favoring the communists and the Middle East was rapidly becoming a foreign policy embarrassment. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan...

(The entire section contains 3794 words.)

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Critical Essays


Teaching Guide