Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1383
Angel Allen Angel Allen is a thirty-four-year-old woman who, as the play opens, has been fired from her job as a backup singer at the Cotton Club. Angel has just broken up with Nick, an Italian gangster who recently married another woman. Angel, hurt by the breakup, saw Nick in...
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Angel Allen is a thirty-four-year-old woman who, as the play opens, has been fired from her job as a backup singer at the Cotton Club. Angel has just broken up with Nick, an Italian gangster who recently married another woman. Angel, hurt by the breakup, saw Nick in the audience of the nightclub and interrupted one of her dance routines to berate him and throw things at him. As a result of the breakup, Angel has also lost her apartment, paid for by Nick, as well as all of her clothes and other belongings, since he will not allow her into the apartment to collect her things. Guy, her best friend, allows her to live in his apartment while she searches for another job. However, due to the depression, there are no singing jobs available for Angel, and she continues to be out of work while Guy supports her. Her only prospect is not a singing job but an opportunity to become the mistress of Tony T., a friend of Nick’s. Angel is a practical woman who, although she would prefer a job as a singer, is not above selling herself to a man in exchange for financial security. In Leland, Angel sees an opportunity for financial stability as his wife, despite the fact that she does not love him. But, after she gets pregnant by Leland, she decides that she does not want the baby and chooses to abort it. She has had at least one abortion in the past, after she became pregnant by Nick. When Guy offers her a ticket to go to Paris with him, Angel decides that this is a better opportunity than marrying Leland. She first tells Leland that she has had a miscarriage and then admits to having had an abortion. After Leland shoots Sam, the doctor who performed the abortion, Angel disappears for two weeks. She returns to Guy’s apartment just as Guy and Delia are leaving for Paris. But Angel seems to have cut all ties with her two friends, and the play ends as she sits in the window of Guy’s apartment, figuring out what to do next. Angel is a woman who has always been able to do whatever it takes to survive, despite unfortunate personal and financial circumstances.
Leland Cunningham is a twenty-eight-year-old man from Alabama who has been in Harlem only six weeks. Eight months earlier, his wife, Anna, died giving birth to a baby boy, who also did not survive. Leland encounters Guy and Angel on the street in the middle of the night and helps Guy to accompany Angel, who is drunk, back to the apartment. He later tells Angel that he was drawn to her because she looks like his deceased wife. Leland’s manner is that of a Southern gentleman, and his dress is neat and conservative. He is very religious, with traditional, conservative values that are very different from those of Angel and her friends. Leland considers homosexuality ‘‘an abomination’’ and is even acquainted with the young men in the neighborhood who have been beating up on gay men. Because of this, Angel lies to Leland about Guy, saying that he is her cousin, rather than explaining that he is a friend who is gay. Leland continues to court Angel, even though her values and lifestyle are clearly very different from his. He tries to influence her to attend church, but she is not interested. He even buys her a very conservative dress, which is not at all her style. Before long, Leland asks Angel to marry him, and she accepts. After she tells him that she is pregnant with his child, he brings her a rocking chair he has made by hand, in which he says he wants her to rock all of their children. However, when Angel tells him she has miscarried the baby and then admits that she opted to abort it, Leland immediately figures out that her friend Sam was the doctor who performed the abortion. Leaving Angel, he encounters Sam outside of the apartment building and shoots him in the back with a pistol, killing him.
See Delia Patterson
Guy Jacobs is a thirty-something homosexual man who has just been fired from his job as a costume designer for the Cotton Club. Guy’s dream is to be hired by the famous African-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker, who lives in Paris, to design her costumes. He keeps a large picture of her in his apartment and constantly talks about how his life is going to change once she hires him. Guy is acquainted with the social circle of famous Harlem Renaissance poets and writers, particularly Langston Hughes. Guy is Angel’s best friend. He defends her unruly behavior at the Cotton Club, even though he is fired as a result. He doesn’t hesitate to let Angel live in his apartment with him and even risks some danger at the hands of her former gangster boyfriend in order to sneak into her old apartment and grab some of her things. Guy doesn’t tell Angel that he has been fired because he doesn’t want to upset her, although this means taking lower-paying, less-glamorous jobs in order to support her. Guy explains to Delia that he met Angel in Alabama and was inspired to seek his fortune in Harlem because of her. He is very supportive and caring toward Angel, even though she can be a difficult person, because, as he tells her, ‘‘You let me see how beautiful I was.’’ Guy finally receives a cable from Josephine Baker saying she loves his costumes and inviting him to come to Paris and work for her. She sends him a boat ticket to Paris and plenty of money to buy whatever he needs for his trip. He immediately invites Angel to go to Paris with him, as he now has enough money to buy her a ticket, as well. Angel accepts the offer, but after Leland shoots Sam, she disappears without saying anything to Guy. The day he is to leave for Paris, Guy invites Delia to accompany him in Angel’s place, and she accepts. By the time Angel returns to his apartment in Harlem, Guy has already left to board the ship. However, Guy, always thinking of Angel’s best interests, has paid the rent on his apartment a couple of months ahead of time, thinking that, if Angel returns, she will at least have a place to stay.
Delia Patterson, whose friends call her Deal, is a twenty-five-year-old social worker who is engaged in a project, spearheaded by Margaret Sanger, to open a family planning clinic in Harlem. Delia’s apartment is across the hallway from Angel and Guy’s. She is very shy with men but begins to date Sam after they work together on the family planning clinic. Two weeks after Sam is shot, Delia agrees to accompany Guy to Paris. Just as she is leaving, Angel returns to the apartment, but, as the stage directions state, ‘‘In that moment, both understand that things have changed forever between them.’’ Delia leaves without saying a word to Angel.
Sam Thomas is a forty-year-old doctor at the Harlem Hospital. He works long hours delivering babies but also stays up late drinking with his friends on many nights. Sam is proud of his work delivering babies but is also aware of the problems many African Americans face raising children, due to the financial hardships caused by the depression. Sam is attracted to Delia, but he is aware of her shyness and is careful not to overwhelm her. He helps her to prepare her speech to the church about opening a family planning clinic. In addition to delivering babies, Sam also performs illegal abortions. He has previously performed an abortion for Angel, when she was pregnant by Nick. However, when she asks for another abortion, he is reluctant to go through with it, because this time the father is an African-American man, rather than a white man. However, Angel tells him that she does not want the baby, so he gives her the abortion. When Leland finds out, he shoots Sam in the back, killing him.