Author: Sara M

The enigma that is Roy Cohn

For many, especially younger generations, Roy Cohn is famous for both appearing in Kushner’s Angels in America and being one of the mentors of who would become the current US president. However, in his time and for historians, Roy Cohn is most famous for being Senator Joseph Mccarthy’s right-hand man in the investigation of suspected communists in the 50s and 60s. In the clip above, which is a trailer to a documentary released in 2019 called “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”, gives insight into this infamous individual and the things that made him who he was. For many, he was the epitome of evil and a highly enigmatic man, and for Kushner, a victim of his own prejudices. The side most people didn’t know about him but came to light after his death and takes to Kushner’s play was his apparent homosexuality. Dying of AIDS in the 80s, Roy Cohn’s secret life became a topic of interest. In the play, Cohn hides his true diagnosis, revealing to everyone he was dying of lung cancer instead, to not reveal his sexual orientation. Moreover, in the play, the ghost that constantly haunts him, Ethel Rosenberg, was, in reality, one of the apparent spies he sends to death and the most famous one due to being executed without any physical evidence of her involvement with the soviets. This appearance kind of highlights this character’s apparent guilt to this execution but in real life, there’s no evidence proving that the real Cohn felt this way. In modern times, due to his close relationship with Trump, interest in him has grown again as proved by this documentary. Yet, the same questions remain about this enigmatic individual, questions still asked over 30 years after his death.

The Sins of the Father…

Image result for ibsen ghosts

In this play, one of the most present themes throughout the novel is how the mistakes and beliefs of the parents are passed on to the children. In other words, as the Biblical saying says, “the sins of the father will be visited among the children”. Moreover, besides these abstract inheritances, Oswald’s syphilis is assumed by the context of the text to be congenital, meaning actually genetically inherited from his parents. That is why the doctor in Paris says that “the sins of the father visit the son” when providing a diagnosis to Oswald, as he believes the father’s mistakes came upon the son represented through syphilis, which ironically can also be genetically passed down. When I first read this line, the first thing that came to mind was how similar this story was to a novel I read in high school called Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. In the book, the two main characters and tragic lovers, Heathcliff and Catherine,  pass on their mistakes and misfortunes to their descendants. Specifically, Heathcliff’s despicable nature after losing Catherine leads him to raise a son, though not his biologically, in terrible conditions, making him suffer what he had gone through at the hands of this boy’s biological father. In other words, paying for the sins of his father, who made Heathcliff’s life miserable. Moreover, Heathcliff’s own biological son died young from an undisclosed disease, which shares a lot of similarities with Oswald’s situation. Even though not explicitly mentioned, Heathcliff’s son probably died of a disease given to him by God due to the mistakes of his father. In reality, this was probably not the case, but considering the circumstances and the main theme that the descendants had to pay for their ancestors, this could have been included as part of it. Thus, similar to Ibsen’s idea of Ghosts (ideas, mistakes, beliefs) being transferred to the children, Bronte’s idea of misfortunes transferring and “history repeating itself in an endless cycle”  lead to that same theme of the sins of the father visited among the children. Nonetheless, while Bronte’s book ended on a good note with the children having a happy ending, in Ibsen’s play, the child didn’t have that luck.