Angels in America

Angels in America

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Angels in America Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the hospital, Roy Cohn lies in bed, singing softly. Suddenly, he notices Ethel Rosenberg sitting beside him. Cohn boasts that he’s going to die soon—luckily, just before the disbarment hearing concludes, meaning that he’ll still be a lawyer when he dies. Ethel tells Cohn not to be so confident—Cohn’s panel has already disbarred him. Ethel gloats that one of the people on the disbarment panel said, “I’ve hated that little faggot for 30 years.” As Cohn falls silent, Ethel Rosenberg tells Cohn that she’s been looking forward to his death for a long time.
In real life, Cohn was disbarred just days before his death from AIDS (or liver cancer, as the disbarment panel believed). Ethel seems to be trying to make Cohn as miserable as possible—rubbing Cohn’s closeted homosexuality in his face. It’s hard to argue that Ethel has good reason to want to see Cohn suffer, as Cohn boasts that he conspired to have her executed (in real life, Cohn was fond of telling this anecdote, though it’s not clear that the anecdote is true).
Themes
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn suddenly speaks up. He whispers, “Ma?” and seems to think that Ethel Rosenberg is his mother. He begs her to sing to him, saying that he’s scared and lonely. Ethel refuses at first. Then, reluctantly, she begins to sing a Yiddish lullaby. Cohn’s eyes close, and he becomes very still.
Cohn seems vulnerable and frail in this scene, and Ethel kindly sings Cohn a lullaby, perhaps because she’s sympathetic to all people in pain.
Themes
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Ethel Rosenberg calls Cohn’s name. He doesn’t answer. Then, suddenly, Cohn sits up and shouts, “I’m not dead! I won!” He claims that he fooled Ethel into singing for him, and laughs hysterically. Then, Cohn falls back into his bed. He finds Belize standing over him, and whispers, “In my next life, I wanna be an octopus.” With these words, Cohn dies.
This is a pathetic moment for Cohn. Cohn thinks that he’s won, but his victory is shockingly shallow (keep in mind that this entire conversation could be playing out in Cohn’s own mind, meaning that his only victory is one over a hallucination). Cohn’s dying words about the octopus (reminiscent of the first scene he appeared in) are a final reminder of his corruption, his power, and his “slipperiness.”
Themes
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon