Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

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What does "I,I,I,I..." signify when used by the Angels in the HBO series Angels in America?

Quick answer:

The four voices in the Angel's head represent the four elements -- fire, air, earth and water. The Angel must keep them separate, but she also needs to bring them together to be able to act.

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The English word "angel" is derived from the Greek word "aggelos." It was used by the Greek-speaking translators of the Septuagint scriptures to represent the Hebrew word "malakh." Both "aggelos" and "malakh " simply mean "messenger." A human delivering a message to another...

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human is still amalakh in Hebrew. In this context, however, angels are supernatural beings who deliver messages from God to human worshipers. They speak for the Deity, suggesting that God himself must remain distant from humans to avoid overwhelming us with his glory and power. In ancient thought, the king never goes to his subjects. Rather, he employs lesser beings to carry his word throughout his realm.

Similarly, the angel who appears at the end of Millennium Approaches is speaking for the Hebrew-Christian God. That God once revealed himself to Moses using the nominative phrase "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh," meaning "I Am Who I Am." This phrase, spoken from the famous burning bush in Exodus 3:14, can also be translated as "I Cause to Be What I Want to Exist." When relating the incident, Moses retells it from his own perspective, of course, so he changes the phrase to "Yahweh Asher Yahweh," "He Is Who He Is." From that point on, YHWH (the exact vowels are unknown) becomes the Tetragrammaton (four-letter word), the personal name of God in Hebrew spirituality. Thanks to transliteration into the Latin alphabet, the name YHWH/Yahweh comes to English as Jehovah. By repeating the word "I," the angel appears to be invoking the "Ehyeh" in "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh." She's reminding us she speaks for a higher power even than herself.

It's also a great way for Kushner to highlight the angel's distinctiveness and magnificence from the very first word of many of her sentences. Finally, note that the angel says "I" four times each. In his description of the character, Kushner explains her role as "four divine emanations, Fluor, Phosphor, Lumen and Candle; manifest in One: the Continental Principality of America." She is literally four partial characters, four voices, in one.

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I though that the previous post was very strong.  I think that such a question is open to a form of interpretation.  I like to think that the emphasis brought out by the repetitition brings forth the idea of the angel delivering her own verdict on how human beings act on earth.  Her repetition underscores the agent of the angel and it brings to light the idea that she, a messenger of divinity, is bringing some type of guidance and structure to the individuals on Earth who seek answers.  Her use of the personalized pronoun configures where meaning and judgment ought to be.  For example, Prior's absorption of self is interrupted when he hears her enter and is taken aback when he hears her speak and repeat the personal pronoun.  In doing so, he begins to understand his own purpose and function, and move away from the focus of self into a larger element and design.

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In the HBO adaptation of Angels in America and in the play itself, the angel always repeats this first-person pronoun. Your question is very good but also very specialized. You would probably do well to review several analyses by critics of the play or the televised series.

For example:

Sam Staggs, in his book When Blanche Met Brando, sees this repeated "I" as "a dazzling, otherworldly trope" as well as an allusion to the statement by Stella to Blanche ("I, I, I took the blows..") in A Streetcar Named Desire (327).

William W. Demastes, in his book Staging Consciousness, sees the repeated "I" both as contributing to making the angel difficult for us to understand and as reinforcing the content of her speeches: personal freedom can be destructive (126).

You can review these two sources on A better resource, of course, would be a good library that has access to the MLA bibliography and Academic Search Premier.

In any case, I'd be very interested in hearing how you ultimately make sense of this repeated phrase!

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