Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

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What is Harper Pitt's goal in the dream scene with Prior in Angels in America?

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Harper is the most troubled character in Angels in America, and the dream sequence provides her with an opportunity to confront herself on stage. Prior offers his support by telling her that Joe is gay, but he also challenges her to change. He tells her she will have to accept responsibility for the choices she has made.

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The arc of nearly every character in Kushner's Angels in America involves self-discovery and self-acceptance. Early in the play, Harper seems entirely lost, and her journey through the two parts of the play requires her to confront her own demons (a difficult childhood, escape through a doomed marriage to Joe, social isolation in New York, and addiction to pharmaceutical drugs). The dream sequence in scene 7 puts her on stage in a literal and metaphorical parallel moment with Prior. In the sequence, Prior seems somewhat like a messenger angel who offers verbal confirmation that her husband is homosexual.

The split staging for this scene offers a visual cue to what both Harper and Prior need. Prior turns his focus away from himself and his personal tragedy with AIDS to see himself as a potential prophet guiding his generation through the larger national crisis. For Harper, her hallucinatory interaction with Prior allows her to confront the facts of her marriage and Joe's homosexuality and to begin the work of living more honestly and, eventually, more independently.

Her goal, then, is to find something tangible through the intangible dream sequence by which she can begin to clarify her unhappiness and her need for change.

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The mutual dream scene in act 1, scene 7 places Harper in what they call the "threshold of revelation." Harper knows that something is not right in her seemingly perfect life. She's resorted to taking handfuls of pills to cope with it. At first, we might think that Harper's goal is to discover whether she is hallucinating as a result of all the pills. As her discussion with Prior continues we can see that clearly, she is hallucinating, but she is also on a mission of self-discovery.

Encountering Prior, who is wearing women's makeup, might be meant to show her that there are ways of living far outside her clearly structured Mormon world. Prior tells her things that she already knows, but has not admitted to herself. He tells her that she is profoundly unhappy, though she quickly admits to this. He also tells her that her husband is gay. This she accepts only after initially refusing to believe it. It is implied in this scene that she knew it for some time but needed to "hear" it and be confronted with it, even if only as part of a valium induced hallucination, to accept it.

In this way, the dream/hallucination is one of the crucial first steps that breaks Harper out of the conformist little world she had been living in. Throughout the rest of the play, Harper begins to take more and more control over her life and move into her own as a character.

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If you are referring to Harper's interaction with Prior in the dream sequence of Act I, I think that her primary motivation is to better understand her state of being in the world.  The idea of "the threshold of revelation" is something that is profoundly important in both this scene and to her character, in general.  Harper struggles with having to break away from the conformist vision of the Mormon world, the expectations placed upon her as being a woman, and the idea that she recognizes that there is something amiss in her marriage.  All of these are forces that exist inside Harper, yet she lacks the vocabulary and the pattern of recognition to articulate this condition in the world.  For Harper, seeking to identify what defines her state of the being in the world is extremely important.  This is why the scene with Prior is filled with this desire to gain insight into oneself and one's world becomes a part of her character.  When Prior "outs" her husband, it is a critical element in this process.  Finding out that Joe is gay helps to bring much in way of understanding, something that drives Harper's character throughout the drama.

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