Joe Pitt walks into his apartment and finds Harper sitting on the couch in the dark. Harper explains that she heard someone in their bedroom, with a knife. Harper tells Joe that she’s thinking of “going away,” but Joe insists that he can fix whatever problem they’ve been having.
The stranger’s knife seems to have some phallic symbolism here, as Harper is apparently starved for sex and companionship in general: Joe has only given her these things reluctantly. Nevertheless, Joe’s commitment to an image of “family values” is so great that he wants to remain married to Harper.
Harper asks Joe what he’s been praying for, and Joe explains that he wants God to crush him into tiny pieces. Joe remembers a book of Bible stories that he read as a child. In one story, there was a picture of Jacob wrestling with an angel. The picture—the only thing about the story that Joe remembered—shows Jacob as a beautiful young man, touching the angel’s golden hair. Joe still dreams about the angel, and thinks of himself as Jacob.
The homoeroticism of this story is painfully clear: Joe has had homosexual feelings ever since he was a child, despite belonging to a religion that strongly forbade these feelings. But there’s a more complex point here: Joe’s religious identity is also inextricably tied to his sexual identity. This explains why Joe is so reluctant to give up on Mormonism, despite the fact that it’s made him miserable.
Harper tells Joe, “You are the only person I’ve ever loved.” Then, she tells Joe that he should go to Washington by himself. She tells Joe that she’s not sure if they’ll have a baby or not—in any case, she’s leaving him.
It’s characteristic of Kushner’s play that there’s no clear villain or hero here. We can sympathize with Harper for loving a man who doesn’t love her back, but we can also feel sorry for Joe for being born into a religion that won’t accept him as he is. Perhaps the real villain in this scene is rigid ideology: religion or politics that would condemn someone for their biology.