The Role of Fear in Angels in America

There are a lot of factors that make up Angels in America by Tony Kushner, such as social expectation, labels, sexuality, disease, and so on, but what really ties them all together is the presence of fear. As is said in Als’s summarizing article ‘“Angels in America”: Brilliant, Maddening, and Necessary‘, “fear defined the times.” Roy Cohn, the highly recognized lawyer in the novel that is despised by some, is diagnosed with AIDS by his doctor but refuses to be called a homosexual, due to his contraction of AIDS. As he claims, “AIDS is what homosexuals have. I have liver cancer” (47). There is a level of fear in Roy as he starts to realize his place with the disease growing in him, as well as having death loom over him more and more each day. He also fears the reception of people if they were to know he is somewhat a homosexual, especially in his career and with his colleagues.

Joe is scared of what his actual sexuality means in terms of his religion, marriage, and standing in his life at that moment. He takes all those walks in the park instead of immediately coming back home to his wife in order to contemplate, even when he wasn’t in full realization of his homosexuality. Harper is scared of facing reality and thus indulges herself in Valium, reality being that she is actually alone in the world and probably the only person she ever has is Joe, but even he’s leaving. Louis leaves Prior because he is scared of the inevitable of Prior’s condition, and for himself. Prior is scared of what this prophecy means to him and to the world, scared of death due to his contracting AIDS as well. Fear is what drives certain people to do certain things, and perhaps this is what really pushes the narrative forward in Angels in America: people are scared and they do irrational things to relieve that fear, not knowing that those actions can harm other people.

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  1. Their fear is also based on the issues of identity- Us (AIDS free) vs them (people with AIDS) and the segregation that comes with it. Homosexuality at the time wasn’t an openly acceptable practice and the were afraid of how they would be treated.
    “..not knowing that those actions can harm other people” in the last line of your sentence relates to how Joe’s fears was hurting Harper (36 & 38). Hence, hurting herself with her Valium addiction. Maybe if Joe was open with his sexuality in the beginning, Harper wouldn’t have emotionally been dependent on him; maybe Harper wouldn’t have leaned on Valium for comfort. She might not have been hurt when Joe decides to leave for Louis.

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