Angels in America

Angels in America

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Louis Ironson Character Analysis

A young, intelligent homosexual man, and the grandson of Sarah Ironson. Louis struggles with his feelings for his boyfriend, Prior Walter, throughout the play. Louis has been living with Prior for years, but when Prior contracts the AIDS virus, Louis decides to abandon him. Louis then begins a relationship with Joe Pitt, but breaks it off when he realizes that Joe is a friend of Roy Cohn, whom he regards as a horrible human being. This brings up Louis’s defining characteristic: his enthusiasm for politics in general and progressivism in particular. Kushner has stated that Louis is a “moderate progressive,” however. In part because of his white, secular identity, Louis tends to underestimate the role of race in the political sphere, whereas characters like Belize have a more realistic view of its importance. As the play draws to a close, Louis learns to balance his broad, abstract political views with a concern for living, breathing human beings—whether it be Prior or any of the other victims of the AIDS crisis.

Louis Ironson Quotes in Angels in America

The Angels in America quotes below are all either spoken by Louis Ironson or refer to Louis Ironson . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Theatre Communications Group edition of Angels in America published in 2013.
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 7 Quotes

Louis: It's not really a family, the Reagans, I read People, there aren't any connections there, no love, they don't ever even speak to each other except through their agents. [...] I think we all know what that's like. Nowadays. No connections. No responsibilities. All of us... falling through the cracks that separate what we owe to ourselves and... and what we owe to love.

Related Characters: Louis Ironson (speaker), Ronald Reagan
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louis Ironson meets Joe Pitt, who works at the same law office. Louis, who was recently in a gay relationship with Prior Walter (i.e., he's closer to being "out" than Joe is), claims that Ronald Reagan's family values are just a pathetic illusion. The Reagans claim to be a big, happy family on TV, but really they don't love one another at all.

Louis has a point. Reagan based his presidency on a return to traditional, "family values"--a phrase that, many believed, was a coded attack on the homosexual community. By attacking Reagan's own family, Louis is suggesting that "family values" aren't based on love at all; just a hateful desire to destroy those deemed as different or "other." But even if Louis has a point, perhaps he's too quick to condemn Reagan's wife and children--innocent people who shouldn't really be blamed for the president's politics. Louis is so intense in his political thinking that he disrespects others under the banner of ideology.

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Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

There are no gods here, no ghosts and spirits in America, there are no angels in America, no spiritual past, no racial past, there’s only the political, and the decoys and the ploys to maneuver around the inescapable battle of politics…

Related Characters: Louis Ironson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louis talks to Belize, the friend of Prior Walter. Louis delivers a long, babbling, self-contradictory speech in which he condemns the state of contemporary liberalism in the United States. When Louis claims there are no "angels in America" (giving the play its title!), he's trying to say that race is a political issue, not a cultural or a religious one--i.e., America doesn't have a history of basing one's religious or cultural identity on one's race. Louis--rigid and abstract in his thinking--reduces all of life to a political struggle. Religious fervor, racial pride, and community solidarity are, in his view, just distractions from the basic political struggle for freedom and power.

Louis is, as always, reductive in his thinking (and being particularly insensitive given that he's preaching about race to an openly gay black man). Politics are important to American life, but they're not the only issue, as Louis believes. And yet the notion that there are no angels in America has many different interpretations beyond the one Louis offers. Louis statement implies that modern American life is immoral and ruthless--there are no kind, generous people left anymore. In the AIDS crisis, however, Louis's cynical wisdom is proven incorrect: AIDS brought out the kindness and selflessness in many people.

Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 6 Quotes

Prior: Are you... a ghost, Lou?
Louis: No. Just spectral. Lost to myself. Sitting all day on cold park benches. Wishing I could be with you. Dance with me, babe...

Related Characters: Prior Walter (speaker), Louis Ironson (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous dream sequence, Prior Walter reunites with his boyfriend, Louis Ironson. Louis has abandoned Prior because Prior has been diagnosed with AIDS, and Louis is frightened of contracting the disease himself. But in the realm of dreams, Louis is no longer afraid of Prior. Prior dreams of dancing with Louis--death and AIDS are no longer a danger for either one of them.

The passage is also a good example of how dreams can help humans escape from the pain of their day-to-day lives. At times, dreams help the characters confront reality with a new depth of insight. But here, the point isn't that Prior is gaining some new insight (although what Louis says about cold park benches is true)--rather, Prior dreams about Louis so that he can feel happier. Of course, it's tragic that Prior and Louis can safely engage in an act as simple as dancing only in the world of dreams. The very simplicity of their reunion reinforces how greatly AIDS has fractured and endangered the gay community.

Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 7 Quotes

I think, if you touch me, your hand might fall off or something. Worse things have happened to people who have touched me.

Related Characters: Louis Ironson (speaker), Joe Pitt
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Joe and Louis tentatively begin a relationship. Joe has spent his entire life in the closet, despite the fact that he feels gay desires. Louis is more open about his homosexuality, but he's clearly wracked with guilt at having abandoned his boyfriend, Prior Walter, after Prior was diagnosed with AIDS. We can see Louis's guilt as he warns Joe about touching him. The last person to "touch" Louis was Prior--who's been diagnosed with AIDS and abandoned by his friends and family.

The irony of the passage is that Louis is behaving like an AIDS patient, despite the fact that he doesn't have AIDS at all. It's as if Louis is blaming himself for Prior's having contracted the AIDS virus. Louis seems to think of his own selfishness as a hideous disease--a more dangerous, toxic disease than AIDS itself. Louis is attracted to Joe, but on some level, he thinks that he doesn't deserve to begin a relationship with Joe--he knows he's not strong enough to stand by his boyfriend's side.

Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. It’s just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on Earth sounds less like freedom to me. You come with me to room 1013 over at the hospital, I'll show you America. Terminal, crazy and mean. I live in America, Louis, that’s hard enough, I don’t have to love it. You do that. Everybody’s got to love something.

Related Characters: Belize / Norman Ariago (speaker), Louis Ironson
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Belize tells Louis that he hates America. Belize is speaking somewhat metaphorically--he certainly doesn't seem to despise the idea of America; the idea of a country in which everybody is free and equal, protected by the same laws and the same authorities. But Belize knows perfectly well that such an idea is just that--an idea, an illusion. Where Louis naively believes that America's courts and congresses protect all races and sexual orientations equally, Belize knows better. The law does not apply equally to everyone, contrary to what patriots claim: heterosexuals are better taken care of than homosexuals; whites are better protected than blacks, etc. The idea of America is a sinister fable, designed to hide the concrete facts of racism and homophobia in the country--and nobody who's in touch with the real world, Belize implies, could believe in such an idea.

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Louis Ironson Character Timeline in Angels in America

The timeline below shows where the character Louis Ironson appears in Angels in America. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 1
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...“devoted” to her husband Benjamin Ironson, also dead, and to her children and grandchildren, including Louis Ironson. The Rabbi admits that he didn’t know Sarah at all, though he knows her... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 4
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Outside the synagogue, Louis Ironson (Sarah Ironson’s grandson) and a man named Prior Walter stand and talk. Louis never... (full context)
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Prior tells Louis that Louis’s cousin Doris is a lesbian, and Louis is amazed. Prior laughs and tells... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 5
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The scene cuts to the aftermath of the funeral. As he buries his grandmother, Louis approaches Rabbi Chemelwitz. He admits to having ignored his grandma in her final years, and... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 6
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...Pitt is working at his legal office. He walks into the bathroom and comes across Louis crying. Louis explains that he’s a word processor—the “lowest of the low.” Joe offers Louis... (full context)
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Louis explains that he has a sick friend, and he adds that Joe’s other friends, whom... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 7
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...environment. He’s dressed in women’s clothing (similar to the Shirley Booth dress he described for Louis earlier). There are candles and kitschy curtains lining the stage. (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 8
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In another apartment, Louis and Prior sit in their bed, talking about Judaism and the law. The law, Louis... (full context)
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Prior tells Louis that his condition is deteriorating quickly—he has new lesions, kidney problems, and diarrhea. Louis says,... (full context)
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Reluctantly, Louis asks Prior if Prior loves him, and Prior says that he does. Louis asks Prior... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 1
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We open on Prior crawling on the floor of his apartment. Louis sees him and yells that he’s going to call an ambulance, but Prior refuses to... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 3
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In a hospital, Prior lies in bed. Louis stands close by, talking to a nurse. The nurse, whose name is Emily, tells Louis... (full context)
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Louis tells Emily that he needs to go for a walk in the park to think.... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 4
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Outside the bar in a park, Louis meets a stranger. Louis asks the Stranger to have sex with him, saying that he’s... (full context)
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Outside in the park, the Stranger has rough sex with Louis. As the Stranger penetrates Louis, he tells Louis that he’s broken his condom. Louis shouts,... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 5
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Prior asks Belize if he’s heard from Louis. Prior explains that it’s been a long time since Louis has been to see him.... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 7
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Louis sits outside the courthouse where he works, eating his lunch. As he sits, Joe Pitt... (full context)
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Louis talks about Ronald Reagan, and suggests that Ron Reagan Jr. is homosexual. Joe tells Louis... (full context)
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Louis gets up to go back inside, but Joe stops him. He explains that yesterday—a Sunday—he... (full context)
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Joe tells Louis that he can’t force himself to go back into the courthouse that day. Louis asks... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 9
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...stage is again divided into two halves. On one half, Prior sits in the hospital. Louis enters the room. On the other half, Joe enters his apartment, where he finds Harper... (full context)
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Louis tells Prior that he’s moving out of their apartment. “The fuck you are,” Prior answers.... (full context)
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...the park, and he tries to stop himself from walking there, but he can’t. Meanwhile Louis tells Prior that he can’t be with him anymore. Prior threatens to “beat the shit”... (full context)
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...to Washington. She accuses Joe of “spinning a lie” his entire life. Meanwhile Prior accuses Louis of not loving him. Louis says “I love you,” but Prior snaps, “Who cares?” He... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 2
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Louis and Belize sit in a coffee shop. Louis is talking very quickly about the state... (full context)
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Louis talks about the decay of property rights—a signifier of the “worst kind of liberalism.” Nowadays,... (full context)
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Louis goes on talking, while Belize looks impatient. Louis claims that the U.S. is unique in... (full context)
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Louis suggests that Belize hates him because he’s abandoned Prior. Louis claims that he still loves... (full context)
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...the funeral was open casket—Prior is frightened of catching a disease. Back in the cafe, Louis asks Belize how Prior’s doing, and Belize tells him that Prior is doing horribly. (full context)
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Louis tells Belize that he misses Prior horribly, but he’s frightened of getting sick. Louis tells... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 6
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...dance. They tell Prior to close his eyes. When Prior opens his eyes, he finds Louis standing before him. Louis asks Prior to dance with him—Prior refuses, thinking that Louis must... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 7
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On the other side of the stage, Joe walks through Central Park. He sees Louis, sitting alone on a park bench. Joe asks Louis if he’s heard of Lazarus. When... (full context)
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Slowly, Joe touched Louis’s lips, whispering, “I’m going to hell for doing this.” Louis shrugs and leads Joe “home.”... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 2
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Louis leads Joe Pitt into his apartment—continuing the final scene of Part One. Joe tells Louis... (full context)
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Louis and Joe begin to kiss. Then Joe breaks away, insisting that he has to go.... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 7
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On the other half of the stage, Louis and Joe lie in bed together in Louis’s apartment. Louis challenges Joe on his politics—how... (full context)
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Louis and Joe fall asleep slowly. Louis tells Joe that he’s been feeling guilty for causing... (full context)
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Louis wakes up, having heard Joe talking to “Harper.” Louis tells Joe that he dreamed that... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 2, Scene 2
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...what he thinks of Prior’s dream-prophecy. Belize suggests that Prior is projecting his feelings for Louis onto his “visions.” Just as Prior wants Louis to come back to him, so the... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 2
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...still see Prior and Harper looking at the stage. On the stage, however, we see Louis and Joe, arguing about Mormonism. Louis asks Joe how it’s possible for Mormons to live... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 3
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Louis and Joe walk along the beach. Louis wonders aloud what he’s doing with Joe—a married,... (full context)
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Joe tells Louis that Louis is a good man, whom he admires deeply. Louis shakes his head—he can’t... (full context)
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Joe seems heartbroken by Louis’s need to see Prior. He tells Louis that he’ll do anything for him. He begins... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 5
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...from the diorama are walking through Brooklyn Heights, but everyone from the previous scene (Joe, Louis, Cohn, Belize, and Ethel Rosenberg) is still onstage. The Mormon Mother points out the skyline... (full context)
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Another part of the stage lights up: it’s Louis, standing with Joe on the beach. Louis walks away from Joe, to a phone booth.... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 1
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On the other half of the stage, Louis meets up with Prior in a park. Prior, now dressed all in black and walking... (full context)
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Back in the park, Prior is still furious with Louis for seeing another man. Louis tries to explain: he feels a strong sense of “companionship”... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 2
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...a will.” He calls Joe a pig. Joe hesitantly asks Prior if this is about Louis. Prior continues yelling at Joe, rather than answer Joe’s question. Belize, speaking in French, tells... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 3
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We’re at the Bethesda Fountain—the huge angel statue in Central Park. Belize stands with Louis, and Louis notes that the fountain is Prior’s favorite place in the park. Louis asks... (full context)
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Belize begins to walk out. Louis shouts that Belize is just jealous of Louis for stealing Prior away from him. Louis... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 8
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We’re in Louis’s apartment. Louis opens the door and lets Joe inside. Louis, who seems cold and distant,... (full context)
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Louis explodes that he’s been researching Joe’s court decisions during the Reagan years. Louis finds these... (full context)
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Louis tells Joe that his “Have you no sense of decency?” quote comes from Joseph N.... (full context)
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Joe stands over Louis, horrified with what he’s just done. He asks Louis if he’s all right. Louis mutters... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 3
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Belize and Louis sneak into Cohn’s hospital room. Belize tells Louis to keep his voice down—they’re there to... (full context)
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Belize forces Louis to try to deliver a Kaddish. Louis delivers one, very hesitantly. As he falters, Ethel... (full context)
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After Louis finishes his prayer, Belize crams Louis’s bag with AZT pills and thanks him for his... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 4
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...Joe’s victim deserved his beating. Joe begins to weep, and says that he’ll never see Louis again. Joe orders Cohn to leave him. Before Cohn goes, he kisses Joe on the... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 6
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...begins to climb back to Earth, Sarah says something in Yiddish. The Rabbi translates: “Tell Louis I forgive him.” She also tells Louis to keep “struggling with the Almighty.” (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 7
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Before Hannah can leave, Louis enters the room—he’s still horribly bruised from his fight with Joe. Hannah pushes past Louis,... (full context)
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Prior and Louis are alone in the hospital room. Louis tells Prior that he wants to get back... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 8
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On the other half of the stage, we’re back in the hospital with Louis and Prior. Prior pauses and says, “I love you, Louis, but you can’t come back.... (full context)
Epilogue
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It is 1990, and Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah sit by the Bethesda Fountain, talking about the recent fall of the... (full context)
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Louis points out that the Cold War is over: Gorbachev has brought in a new era... (full context)
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As Belize, Hannah, and Louis bicker, Prior stands up and addresses the audience directly. “This is my favorite place in... (full context)
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Louis tells Hannah and Belize that “big theories” aren’t big enough to encompass the whole world.... (full context)
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...than he loves angels, because they commemorate death and yet never die. Prior “taps in” Louis to tell the audience about this angel statue. Louis explains that the Angel Bethesda landed... (full context)
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...run again in Jerusalem. When this happens, Hannah will take her friends to bathe there. Louis and Belize bicker about the Israel-Palestine debate. (full context)