Instructor: Lawrence Ypil
Society and Identity
In Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America” the strong concept of “identity” is explored through each character. Factors such as religion, sexuality, and social class play a role in assigning the play’s characters with their own sense of individuality. In an ideal world, each person’s unique identity should serve to broaden and enrich his or her life. However, in the play, Kushner seems to be hinting at the fact that standards set by society do the opposite by limiting one’s sense of identity. Throughout the play, “labels” that society assigns do nothing but oppress the characters.
Joe, the central character, attaches the label “homosexual” to himself. Being in a heterosexual marriage, he finds himself inhibited by his sexuality and its clash with his sense of awareness to society and his Mormon belief’s expectations for him. His shame with his own identity is first displayed with his negative response when Harper asks him “are you a homo?”. When Harper explains to Prior that in her and Joe’s (Mormon) church, they “don’t believe in homosexuals”, it becomes apparent that the standards of Joe’s religion interfere with his own label of being gay. It can be inferred that Kushner is trying to express the notion that one’s “identity” can fiercely be weakened by society’s expectation.
Another character, Roy Cohn, a powerful “gay” lawyer who is diagnosed with AIDS refuses to “identify” himself as a homosexual. Roy’s doctor reveals that his diagnosis of AIDS is caused by his sexual interactions with men, alleging that he is a homosexual. However, Roy strongly disagrees. “Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who fucks around with guys”, he explains. Roy strongly refuses to attach himself with the word, “homosexual”. Through this, Kushner is trying to exemplify the fact that society’s expectations towards successful lawyers and the negative presumptions...