Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

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Student Question

Does Angels in America contain any figurative angels or devils, besides the literal angel?

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I think that the discussion of potential angels and devils in Kushner's work is something that pivots to the role of human beings.  It seems to me that Kushner wishes to make the point that Prior suggests in that human beings are "not rocks."  Rather, there is a fluid construction to human identity, one in which the presence of figurative demons and angels exists in what it means to be a human being.  For example, Roy Cohn is shown as almost the personification of a devil on Earth with his approach to life and his base mentality on appropriating the world in accordance to his own subjectivity.  Yet, it is the law, and his practice of it, that enables him to be the attorney for God.  Joe is angelic in his love of Louis, something that enables him, if only for a moment, to transcend his own condition of being.  However, his breaking of Harper's heart and the way in which he can only discard her is representative of something akin to a demon.  Louis holds the intent of angels, and yet possesses the emotional inertia of a devil, especially seen in the manner he abandons Prior.  Harper sees human beings as demonic and devilish in their capacity for evil, and yet the ending of the play sees human beings as being the solution to the holes in the ozone layer.  Even the angels of the Continental Principalities are not shown to be fully angelic, in how they discuss the suffering of human beings, such as Chernobyl, and display their own resentment and pettiness towards human beings.  In this, Kushner seeks to make the argument that it is the human capacity for change and transformation that enables we, human beings, as being both the angels and devils in America.

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