Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

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The significance of Roy Cohn's power shift in Angels in America


The significance of Roy Cohn's power shift in Angels in America lies in his transformation from a powerful, influential lawyer to a vulnerable, terminally ill man. This shift highlights the themes of decline, mortality, and the ultimate powerlessness of individuals in the face of illness and death, emphasizing the human condition's fragility despite social or political power.

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What is the significance of the power shift that Roy Cohn undergoes in Angels in America?

To a great extent, Roy Cohn's power shift is significant because it connects to the basic theme of change and transformation that Kushner feels is intrinsic to what it means to be both a human being and what it means to live in America.  Cohn believes that his being of power and political machination is what defines reality.  However, these elements of temporal control cannot offset the seismic change both he and his vision of America undergo.  His love of power does not protect him from the disease ravaging his body and from facing the ghosts of his past, particularly in the form of Ethel Rosenberg.  His vision of America is not going to remain intact, as the fall of the Soviet Union will bring with it a challenge to the overall premise of the Conservative vision that the Soviet Union is the embodiment of evil.  The power shift that Roy undergoes from one of power and control to a condition of being disenfranchised by a disease that was not understood and actually demonized by the very same system and people that Roy covets is part of this transformation process.  Power and control are temporal conditions, constantly shifting as no different that the Continental principalities that are always subject to plate tectonics and the mere element of being in the world.  In this, Roy is no different than any other being and is governed no differently by the same forces that initiate change and the life force that defines and is intrinsic to human consciousness and the same zeitgeist that defines and is intrinsic to America.

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In Angels in America, how did Roy Cohn's power shift?

I ended up paring this question down.  I advise you to resubmit the other part of the question as it is a good one.  I think that Roy undergoes changes in his power by having to reconcile his love of Republicanism power with being afflicted with a disease that would make relegate him to the periphery if not outright outcast of the Republican party.  The fact that Cohn contracts the virus that causes AIDS at a time when the disease was strictly viewed by many in the Republican party as "God's punishment" reflects a shift in power.  From the phone which featured multiple lines and could enable him to put about ten people on hold from all powerful walks of life, Cohn has to be transferred to a hospital with a phone that has only one line, and that is an operator assisted one at that.  While on face value that does not seems like a seismic shift in power,  Roy recognizes that it is a change in power.  At the same time, Roy experiences a shift in power in how he is perceived.  The idea that Roy's mortal capabilities can enable him to escape anything anywhere from anyone is tested once he contracts the virus that causes AIDS and then develops the full blown disease.  He has power enough to delay the inevitable, but he is stripped of his license, must endure the hauntings of Ethel Rosenberg, and cannot escape the all encompassing power of death.  In this, Roy experiences a fundamental shift in power.

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