Angels are among the most explicit and evocative symbols in Kushner’s play. To begin with, it’s important to note that angels are hermaphrodites, neither male nor female. This is important because Kushner’s play centers around questions of sexual identity: just as many of the play’s characters waver between homosexual and heterosexual behaviors (and masculine and feminine personae), the angels exemplify the ambiguity in all sexual identity. But paradoxically, in representing a kind of “ideal humanity” (neither masculine nor feminine, neither gay nor straight), the angels also come to symbolize the absence of genuine humanity. Angels are immortal, have glorious orgasms, etc., and yet Kushner’s angels are also bored, joyless, and—most importantly—incapable of making free decisions. The angels’ very perfection renders their lives dull—only human beings themselves can experience the joy of uncertainty. It’s also important to keep in mind that the angels in the play might be completely imaginary—the product of Prior Martin’s feverish imagination. In this way, we might say that angels symbolize humanity’s potential to be perfect—to imagine or aspire to perfection—and yet they also end up symbolizing the futility (and undesirability) of actually realizing that potential.
Angels in America
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The timeline below shows where the symbol Angels appears in Angels in America. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 2
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 2
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 7
...the roof of Prior’s apartment caves in, covering Prior with plaster and dust. A beautiful angel flies in, smiling at Prior. The angel greets Prior, calling him a prophet. The angel... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 2, Scene 2
...Prior’s apartment in the flashback, the Angel of America explains that God has abandoned the angels because of his greater love and interest in human beings. In 1906—the year of the... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 2
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 3
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 6
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 5