Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

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Student Question

Does the play hinge on the statement, "There are no gods, ghosts, spirits or angels in America..."?

Expert Answers

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Like so much in Kushner's work, the answer is not easy.  I would suggest at the outset that the play revolves around many entities, and not merely one.  When the play's subtitle involves the term, "Fantasia," it is fair to say that there are many elements involved, many moving parts to the drama and not merely one element that drives the play.  Louis' statement is important as it provides one of the most distinct references to the concept of "Angels in America."  Louis, for his part, rejects this notion, suggesting that political power is, to quote Roy, "the intestinal juices" or "the gastric bowls" that drive the nation.  I believe that the meaning of the play is brought out to a great extent by the statement in that it gives a paradigm to view the struggles of many in America of the 1980s.  In particular, this paradigm is applicable to the gay community under the Republican politics of the time period.  It was evident to many with the onslaught of AIDS impacting the community and the marginalization of the gay community's voice that "there were no angels" in terms of external powers that will descend and deliver judgments in support of them.  In this respect, the statement does have meaning in how it articulates the position that many felt at the time.  Yet, I am not entirely certain that the play, as a whole, hinges on it because Kushner brings out so many elements to this "Fantasia" or discourse for which there is nothing absolute, but rather the nuance of conditions through which we view these characters, their lives, and in the end, ourselves and our own views of what is being discussed.  There is as much relevance in Louis' quote about a lack of angels as there is in Belize's response to it about "big ideas" and death, as there is in Prior's affirmation of change with human beings not being rocks, as there is in Harper's realization that the human predicament is one of nostalgia for something no longer present.  The play could hinge on any of these statements, which is why I feel that the play hinges on so many elements, so many moving parts in order to give meaning to it.

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