Angels in America

Angels in America

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Funerals Symbol Icon

It’s only appropriate that Angels in America, a play about the devastation of the AIDS crisis, include a few scenes centered around funerals. It’s clear enough that funerals symbolize the effects of the AIDS crisis in America—and yet, out of the three funerals in the play, only one is held for an AIDS victim. Kushner isn’t specifically concerned with AIDS, so much as he is with the broader question of how we should respond to death and tragedy: should we weep for the victims or celebrate them with song and dance? Some of the funerals in play are somber, quiet affairs, while others are big, glitzy spectacles. This suggests the myriad ways humans are equipped to cope with sadness and the inevitability of death.

Funerals Quotes in Angels in America

The Angels in America quotes below all refer to the symbol of Funerals. 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.
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

The Great Question before us is: Can we Change? In Time? And we all desire that Change will come.

Related Characters: Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov (speaker)
Related Symbols: Perestroika, Funerals
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Part II of the play, we're introduced to a strange, comical figure, Aleksii Altedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, who presides over the Kremlin in Moscow. In an ironic call-back to the opening scene of the play, Aleksii seems to be organizing a funeral--but this funeral is for the Soviet Union, not an individual person. By the late 1980s, it was clear to many that the Soviet Union was on its last legs: after decades of instability, it was finally going under.

What, we might well ask, does the collapse of the Soviet Union have to do with Kushner's play--a play about the AIDS crisis, the Reagan Administration, and the state of modern America? Without ever saying so explicitly, Kushner suggests that the collapse of the Soviet Union--just like the other major historical events of his play--was greeted as an opportunity for grand, historical change. For decades, the Soviet Union--a country founded on left-wing values--had been a rallying point for leftists in the United States, but after the 1950s, when news of the country's brutality became widely known, the left in America stopped praising Russia. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R., the question on everybody's mind was--what will become of left-wing values in the world?

In short, the opening scene of the play establishes a sense of uncertainty, both for the world and for liberals in particular. As millennium approaches, the characters in the play sense that a great change is coming--but nobody can agree on what this change will look like.

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Perestroika: Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

That ludicrous spectacle in there, just a parody of the funeral of someone who really counted. We don't; faggots; we're just a bad dream the world is having, and the real world's waking up. And he's dead.

Related Characters: Prior Walter (speaker), Belize / Norman Ariago
Related Symbols: Funerals
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Prior and Belize have just come from a funeral for an AIDS-diagnosed drag queen they both knew. In contrast to the funeral in the first part of the play, the drag queen's funeral is glitzy, glamorous, and defiantly optimistic--despite the tragedy of the occasion. Prior finds the spectacle of the funeral to be disgusting and indecent--how dare the mourners sing and have a good time?

Although Prior dislikes the funeral, Kushner evidently doesn't agree with him (as is shown in Belize's response to Prior). For Kushner, the only appropriate response to the misery unleashed by the AIDs crisis is to defy it--to respond to misery and death with life, love, and laughter. The funeral is, in short, a stand-in for Kushner's play itself: a big, over-the-top spectacle that uses humor and fantasy to address deadly serious social issues. The very fact of Kushner's play's existence proves that Kushner favors the "ludicrous spectacle" that Prior criticizes.

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Funerals Symbol Timeline in Angels in America

The timeline below shows where the symbol Funerals 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
In the year 1985, a group gathers in a New York synagogue for a funeral. Rabbi Isador Chemelwitz delivers a eulogy for Sarah Ironson, who was “devoted” to her husband... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 5
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
The scene cuts to the aftermath of the funeral. As he buries his grandmother, Louis approaches Rabbi Chemelwitz. He admits to having ignored his... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 2
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
...He also mentions that his friend Burt died of tuberculosis. Prior didn’t go to the funeral because the funeral was open casket—Prior is frightened of catching a disease. Back in the... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 2, Scene 1
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The scene opens at a funeral, where Prior and Belize are in attendance. Many of the other attendees are dressed in... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 2, Scene 2
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
Back outside the funeral, Prior explains that Angels have eight vaginas—they’re hermaphrodites—and they live in Heaven, which is a... (full context)
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
Back at the funeral, Belize tells Prior what he thinks of Prior’s dream-prophecy. Belize suggests that Prior is projecting... (full context)
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
Back at the funeral, Belize tells Prior that he’s frightened for Prior: he’s not thinking clearly. Belize also disagrees... (full context)