The second part of Angels in America, titled Perestroika, deals with the aftereffects of the occurrences in Millennium Approaches and the conclusion of the play as a whole. In this part we gain insight into the Angels, Heaven, and God. Kushner describes them in a human way, very unlike the way they are normally discussed both in normal life and inside the play, where Mormon ideals run strong through some of the characters. God decides to leave, the Angels create through sex, and Heaven is a rundown town. These are all characterizations that would be expected to be found in Greek deities, not the Christian faith.
Perestroika shows new sides of each character. Roy, now in his deathbed, has moments in which he changes his normally brutish behavior for something completely different. There are flashes of compassion in his treatment of Belize during his feverish hallucinations, his normally kind treatment of Joe changes suddenly once Joe declares his homosexuality. Joe himself shows new things, under Louis’ harsh questioning he keeps trying to find excuses and attempts to escape culpability to the point of beating Louis when the wouldn’t stop his questioning. This is a huge break from the normally passive Joe. Finally, Perestroika also deals with the conclusion of the obstacles the characters had during Millennium Approaches: Louis and Prior get back together, Prior renounces his prophetic assignment, Harper moves out, Roy dies, and Hannah finds a new home in New York.
There was one more theme present in Perestroika that had big implications for the meaning of the play. The relation between dream and reality is very strong, many of the character’s hallucinations have very real effects on the world, from Ethel prompting Louis to sing to Prior and Harper almost recognizing each other from their shared experience in Millennium Approaches. Kushner plays fast and loose with what is real and what is not. There are moments in which the Angel arrives to Earth and all hell breaks loose, Prior fights the Angel, Hannah is flabbergasted over the entire situation, but in the end the event is remembered as dream rather than an actual event.
I’m clearly the first one to jump on the comments section because I feel like the second part of the play touches on a number of different, heavy themes and subjects which all try to occupy the same space. Because, as already stated, the themes of the play are wrestling to make sense in the limited space and setting provided by the play, I do get confused at a number of points.
Nonetheless, I’ll try to provide my opinions (to the best of my ability) to some of the questions that you posed. Firstly, I believe this part of the play was aptly named “Perestroika” for a number of reasons. The word “Perestroika” as I came to realize means “openness” or “thawing”. In essence, things are literally changing form. People, like Roy, are moving from a state of living to a state of death, Harper gains the courage to move out of the confines of her home, Heaven moves from having the quintessential imagery of ‘paradise’ to an image of post-earthquake San Francisco, and there’s also the free movement of characters between their dreams and hallucinations and reality, and the movement of the Prior-a mere-mortal-in and out of heaven. The same goes for the angel, Bethesda, as well. So, evidently, there is a lot of change of states and forms and ideologies.
Sadly, I feel like the book offers no resolution on the larger issues of religion, homosexuality and AIDS. Some characters die from their AIDS, Prior gets a chance to live longer, I think Hannah is more tolerating of the gay community even though it’s against her religious beliefs and Joe gets a better understanding of what “love” is. But, there’s still something missing for me. Prior tells Belize:- “This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all of us, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore…” I like his “fight or die trying” attitude but it’s be clear from the first part of the play that the issue of the disease cannot be dealt with independently. The audience of the text and the characters discuss it in relation to other issues such as race, religion, power, etc. And the fact that I’m not provided with a holistic conclusion to all those issues in relation to one another means that there’s still something missing or there’s more to be discusses.
On the issue of who’s deserving hate, I believe the text doesn’t provide us with a clear victim or hero. We could definitely be drawn sympathetically to one character over the other but all the characters are flawed. As you guys already mentioned, the characters deserving the most hate are most likely Joe and Roy. But, as flawed characters who are wrestling with the inner conflicts, they help to drive the plot of the play. It takes Roy’s death for Belize to procure AZT drugs (Zidovudine) to treat Prior’s AIDS, and possibly prolong his life. And Joe’s decision to leave Harper gives her the courage to break free from her own confines. So they are flawed characters but they’re not that bad.
Finally, the issue of God and the angels is a bit sensitive for me given my Catholic-Christian background. God is portrayed as a deity who has countless sexual experiences with his angels and he creates humans as “uni-genitalled” for more sexual encounters. This for obvious reasons is very weird to me. Religion aside, Hannah made a comment about the angels that stood out to me. She said to Prior:- “An angel is a belief. With wings and arms that can carry you. If it lets you down, reject it” (Kushner, 242). From this quotation, I gather that the we, as humans, don’t exist to serve angels or listen to their teachings, but, the angels exist to perform a mediocre role in our lives. If they do not perform their roles, aptly, we ‘fire’ them. Furthermore, Hannah stresses on the fact that an angel is just “a belief” and nothing more. So, they shouldn’t bear that much stronghold over the lives of the characters and the characters have no obligation to be tied down to them in faith or servitude.
Sorry for the really long comment.
I hope this helps.
EBEZE, Chiamaka Odera.
On the theme of forgiveness, I believe that forgiveness has a lot to do with how the society is reorganized in Perestroika, which is a term used to actually refer to the political and economic reform of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The rebuild of the society, marked by the mended relationships between the characters, is largely influenced by how these characters are willing and able to forgive one another. Why Louis and Prior can still remain friends after their breakup, the reason Ethel haunts Roy to his death, how Harper can leave Joe and take a flight to start a new life is all forgiveness.
I wouldn’t perhaps say that being forgiven is a privilege, let alone a right. Because to claim that forgiveness is a privilege seems to imply that forgiveness is merely an act of utter generosity; that the forgiven gains, and the forgiver neither gains nor loses. But in most cases, it is not. Of course, it requires a little compassion and will for me to forgive someone who has stolen a book from my shelves. Yet I believe that one is willing to give forgiveness largely because it lifts his mind off the grudge that he otherwise would have to hold on to. I feel like there is a certain self-interest that drives people to grant forgiveness. It is not just me being super kind and giving you a privilege by forgiving you for stealing my book. I, too, gain something from it. We both mutually benefit. And in my understanding, that can’t be a privilege.
As has been mentioned in the book itself, the very name of Perestroika indicates change by itself. In the Soviet Union it was a drastic change from the traditional state-governed system and a shift towards larger acceptance and democracy. Both these changes can be seen in Part 2.
The first is through Roy, who changes his treatment and behavior towards others. There is a parallel relationship between the pre-Perestroika society and Roy’s brutish nature; versus the thawing hope of change and Roy’s own transformation. In fact one could go a step further to indicate a loose symbolism of how both Roy and the USSR are approaching their end. And of course the change in this leader figure results the change of his surroundings as well, such as Harper moving out.
As politically in tune the play may seem, there is clearly a theme between dream and reality. Perestroika was a great dream, a hope that would ensure the democratization and change of the USSR, and equivalently in the play, the hope is that the LGBT community would be accepted and there would be larger social justice. However, one must note the reality that follows as well: the USSR collapsed, just as the bonded “family” separated as well.
What follows is the uncertainty held by hope of everyone.
The larger discussion of AIDS and religion I feel is dramatized particularly in the Epilogue where there is expression for hope for the future. Of course there is discussion of religion and compromise, however the allusion to Bethesda once again indicates the conflict between reality and imagination (very postmodernist of Kushner).
Overall I’ve discussed a lot about changes and conflict, however I must link how all of this is related to the Angels themselves. The argument shouldn’t be how God is represented but more importantly what does God mean to each of these individuals. Their loyalty to their own cause is not only a form of servitude, but a willing one from their own dedication. And from this second part we can see that rejecting one’s God isn’t as much heresy as independence, with the changes occurring as a primary example of the effects of Perestroika.