The second part of Angels in America is entitled Perestroika for a reason. The first part mainly introduced the AIDS epidemic in America in the 80s, and thus generated a lot of debate about identity, sickness and imagination. This section focuses on progress, what is progress and different definitions of it. Following the characters in the play, we identified multiple perspectives when talking about progress.
Harper believes that new things we create are made from combinations of different informations we had and known before, a.k.a Fantasia. It’s the same with the progress too. We do not just progress into a new future, we progress into a future that is a combination of the past and our dream future. In page 285, when she is traveling in a plane, she says “Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of a painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”. She sees the future that is painful because the future is neither the one we want or the one we had previously in the past. It’s the combination of both. Does progress have to be a radically, completely new change, or can it be more like fantasia?
In the play Prior and Harper are the ones that talk about progress and future. However, it is Louis and Joe who make progress. Joe leaves Harper to fulfill his sexual attraction and Louis leaves Prior. We don’t hear anything about progress from Joe and Louis but they are the making progress. Is progress only action, or can it be a change in thought instead? Also just because Louis and Joe do something “different”, does that constitute as “progress”?
Harper in page 263 says that “Devastation. That’s what makes people migrate, build things.” According to her, progress and change comes only after devastation. So, progress is not actually a good thing because before progress there is devastation. She talks about ozone layer depletion and ice caps melting. These are the symptoms of devastation. Progress and change will be followed by it. Similarly, progress also has a negative connotation in Prior’s dream. It makes the God flee. God does not like progress and change. Why do you think the God fled when people moved and progressed? What is the relationship between progress and their version of God?
Prior, on the other hand, argues progress with the Assembly of the Continental Principalities. The Assembly is concerned about the upcoming Chernobyl disaster, the largest nuclear disaster in human history up to date, forecasting the Millenium, “[n]ot the year two thousand, but the capital-M Millenium” (page 289). The approaching of the Millenium is a belief held by some Christian denominations (including Mormons) that there will be Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which “Christ will reign” for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state. However, it is believed the Millenium will be forecasted by man-made catastrophes, thus the concern for the upcoming Chernobyl disaster. The Angels are afraid of the deaths to follow, and are shocked by Prior’s demand for more life. His “addiction to being alive” is unknowable to the seven Angels who cannot understand how does one desire more life when only death is to follow? Why are the Angles scared of death? Why do they demand cessation instead of progress? Should we lay our future in God’s hands or make the progress ourselves? Prior, the Prophet, presents them with the idea behind modernity and progress:
“We can’t just stop. We’re not rocks. Progress, migration, motion is… modernity. It’s animate. It’s what living things do. We desire. Even if all we desire is stillness, it’s still desire for. (On “for” he makes a motion with his hand: starting one place, moving forward) Even if we go faster than we should. We can’t wait. And wait for what. God–“ (page 275)
Prior’s conversation with the Angel on page 172 and 278-279 reveals the conflicting attitudes between man and entity. The Angel wants humans to stop “moving forward” and “progressing” because it believes that this is why God left the heavens and earth. Prior initially resists very timidly, saying he does not want the prophet job. Later when Prior is in heaven, he humbly rejects the angels’ offers of cure and instead states he “wants more life.” He lauds the “addiction to being alive” and the idea of “hope” in staying alive. Through these passages, it seems like Kushner is criticizing Republican ideals. 20th century Republicanism generally is conservative, which means it wants to retain old ideals/methods and is usually against change. 20th century Democrats generally are supporters of liberalism, usually advocating what they call “progress” and “change.” Throughout the last century in US history, the Democrats mostly were the first ones to support the gay community and gay rights (which might explain why Kushner in his introduction was relieved that Obama won the 2012 election). If we are to attribute this Angel as the Angel of America, then one can see how America is still chained to stagnation. The Angel’s goal is to stem growth and progress but it is up to people like Prior to break free from these restraints and actually create change. Yet what constitutes change? What does it mean to be civilized? If we have freedom of thought and ideas, then why is Kushner bashing on Republicans? Even if it is not a popular chain of thought wouldn’t attacking the Republicans be a contradiction to the free thought that Kushner is preaching here?
What is progress for you readers?
Love, प्रेम, co љубов,
Wes, Krishna and Evgenija