Angels in America Essay 2

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  • Topic: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Roy Cohn, Gay
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  • Published : April 2, 2011
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Henry Chan
19 March 2011

Angels in America: Literary Analysis on the theme of identity

If we were to imagine what destruction is like, how would anyone of us portray it? Would our portrayals be as catastrophic and devastating as the word means? It depends on the person who imagines it. Now, if we were to imagine destruction from a psychological perspective this may be entirely different for each person. Why this would be the case is probably because of the unique personalities that each one of us has. Some of us may not be able to bear the uncertainties that destruction could bring into the world, hence, fearing it. Others may just ignore the details of chaos and live on with their ignorant, static lives. Then, there is the remaining portion of us who know the bigger picture of destruction and are hopeful to change the world from the aftermath of it. In a similar perspective, these comparable portraits of characteristics correlate to one of the unique themes of Tony Kuskner’s play, “Angels in America”: identity. In this theme, the identities of the characters in the play symbolize emotions of ambivalence, the static views of the gay community, and the hope for change in the chaotic era of the 1980s American society.

Kushner subtly conveys Harper’s character to represent the ambivalent emotions of the American society in the 1980s. As a character suffering from psychological problems, Harper’s personality is very complex. In one bizarre aspect of the play, she’s having an interesting conversation with one of her hallucinations, Mr. Lies, to discuss her constructive, yet imaginative, plans to live a new life in Antarctica. While in a counter-perceptive view, Harper feels uncertain and fearful to move out off anywhere because of the paranormal threats that she’s worry about. “A man with a knife” that she speaks of is one of those dangers that she is strangely concerned about (Millennium Approaches 24). The sort of ambivalence and fear that Harper’s identity carries in Kushner’s play somehow depicts the “apocalyptic anxiety” that is happening in the United States in the 1980s (Garner, Jr. 2). The “escalation” of this catastrophic concern is “reinforced by economic crisis, ecological disaster, overpopulation, the AIDS epidemic, and the fall of European communism” at the time (Garner, Jr. 2). In addition to all this build-up of chaotic events in the country, people begin to dread the nuclear annihilations that could potentially commence during the postwar moments of the Cold War. In order to draw out the people’s sense of fear and uncertainty over the destructive events in the 1980s, Kushner tries to convey it through Harper’s paranormal concern of the ozone layer. After she explains to herself how the ozone layer is “a kind of gift, from God”, Harper then says, “But everywhere, things are collapsing, lies surfacing, systems of defense giving away. . . . This is why, Joe, this is why I shouldn’t be left alone (Millennium Approaches 17)”. Her ambivalent concern on the total deconstruction of the world correlates to Americans’ “Cold War anxiety” on the possible nuclear threats in the 1980s (Garner, Jr. 3). By illustrating Harper’s complex identity in the play, Kushner is able to portray the types of ambivalent emotions (fear, terror, and uncertainty) that people felt in the destructive events of history at that time period.

As imaginative and abstract as this drama is, Kushner portrays the stagnant identity of Roy Cohn in his play to figuratively allude the inert views of the gay community in the 80s society of America. In his playwright notes, Kushner briefly explains how he makes use of the real Roy Cohn’s attributions in history to develop his fictional Roy in his play. Based on what Roy has done in the past, his illegal maneuvers during the trial of Ethel Rosenberg make his overall identity cynical and egotistic. Ideally, Kushner effectively make use of these two traits in his version of Roy. In a similar...
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