Angels in America

Angels in America

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Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Angels in America, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon

Angels in America takes place at the height of the “conservative revolution” in American politics and culture. After the liberal era of the 1960s, the United States “swung back” in the direction of conservatism under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan. As Kushner understands it, conservatism is the belief that change should be greeted with skepticism, and that, by default, life is best the way it is: when it’s structured around “traditional” ideas and values. Liberalism or progressivism, on the other hand, argues that change is a quintessential part of the human experience: change should be welcomed, and “traditional” values should be questioned and revised. Because Kushner is an overtly political author, it’s important to unpack the differences between conservatism and progressivism a little more carefully.

The great strength of conservatism, Kushner acknowledges, is that there’s peace, comfort, and stability in keeping things the way they are. Society itself operates on the principle that, all things held equal, life should remain the same—essentially the law of inertia. Partly to prove this point, Angels in America is largely set in the law office where Joe Pitt and Roy Cohn work. The law functions on the assumption of stare decisis, which is the principle that things should stay the way they are until proven otherwise. This is the principle that Joe energetically defends when his homosexual lover, Louis Ironson, confronts him about his politics.

But as Joe’s closeted homosexuality suggests, the big problem with conservatism, at least for Kushner, is that it perpetuates injustice for no good reason. The “traditional moral values” that Reagan, Roy Cohn, and other conservatives touted were partly based on the traditional heterosexual family. Gay people simply weren’t welcome in conservative culture—indeed, their homosexuality was regarded as perverted or evil. Kushner reinforces the groundlessness and hypocrisy of this notion by depicting Roy Cohn, arguably the most conservative, homophobic man in America, as a closeted homosexual and a corrupt lawyer who accepts massive bribes. If a man like Roy Cohn—the very embodiment of conservatism—can be gay and an embezzler, then anyone can. Ironically, the people who most publicly and emphatically celebrate conservative values are often the same people who secretly have no respect for these values in their personal lives.

The reason that conservatism gets bogged down in its own contradictions, Angels in America argues, is that it denies the most basic aspect of the human experience: change. As the Angel of America tells Prior Martin, all human beings feel an inherent desire to move, change, and exercise free will. This desire impels people to embrace change—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Instead of celebrating tradition for its own sake, the progressive ideology encourages people to explore, make mistakes, and embrace uncertainty. This is the crux of the speech that Prior Martin delivers to the angels in the climax of Perestroika. This way of living life, Prior admits, can be scary, but it’s still preferable to the conservative alternative: living every day the same way.

There’s one unshakeable “fact” in Angels in America: to be human is to change. In response to this reality, conservatism tries to “gag” change by celebrating tradition. In this way, Joe Pitt spends most of the first half of the play in the closet, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge his homosexual nature simply because it’s not “traditional.” Progressivism is better and more realistic, but also more challenging: it encourages humans to live their lives however they see fit—gay or straight—but without the empty comfort of tradition. On this uncertain note, Angels in America comes to an end.

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Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change ThemeTracker

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Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Quotes in Angels in America

Below you will find the important quotes in Angels in America related to the theme of Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change.
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

Harper Pitt: I'm undecided. I feel . . . that something's going to give. It's 1985. Fifteen years till the third millennium. Maybe Christ will come again. Maybe seeds will be planted, maybe there'll be harvests then, maybe early figs to eat, maybe new life, maybe fresh blood, maybe companionship and love and protection, safety from what's outside, maybe the door will hold, or maybe . . . Maybe the troubles will come, and the end will come, and the sky will collapse and there will be terrible rains and showers of poison light, or maybe my life is really fine, maybe Joe loves me and I'm only crazy thinking otherwise, or maybe not, maybe it's even worse than I know, maybe . . . I want to know, maybe I don't. The suspense, Mr. Lies, it's killing me.
Mr. Lies: I suggest a vacation.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker), Mr. Lies (speaker), Joe Pitt
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Harper Pitt, the frustrated Mormon housewife who spends most of her day high on Valium. Although Harper isn't exactly a model human being, she brings up one of the most important themes of the play. Harper has a constant sense that something important is about to happen: it's almost the year 2000, and it seems reasonable to think that some major event is going to occur as the millennium approaches.

Harper's belief that "something is going to happen" has an obvious religious flavor--she frames her belief in traditional Christian terms. Her naive optimism is both admirable and strangely pathetic--it's as if by focusing so exclusively on the future, Harper is turning her back on the "here and now." And as Mr. Lies--the imaginary character Harper sees when she takes too many pills--implies, Harper's desire for a second coming is a kind of "vacation" from the real world. Harper fantasizes about the future so that she doesn't have to face the consequences of her actions in the present.


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Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

The truth restored. Law restored. That's what President Reagan's done, Harper. He says: "Truth exists and can be spoken proudly."

Related Characters: Joe Pitt (speaker), Harper Pitt , Ronald Reagan
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Joe Pitt interacts with his wife, Harper Pitt. Joe is a Mormon and a closeted homosexual, but he's also a loyal Republican and a disciple of Ronald Reagan, the current president of the United States. As Joe tells Harper about his admiration for Reagan, his words take on an ironical, messianic fervor: it's as if Joe believes Reagan to be the embodiment of the second coming.

Joe's faith in Reagan might seem absurd, and yet Joe speaks for many during the Reagan years who saw the president as the savior of the United States. Reagan framed his presidency in terms of "traditional moral values"--thus, for many, especially conservatives and Christians, Reagan was returning America to its utopian past.

There's an interesting contradiction in Joe's speech: he conceives of Reagan as a prophet, bringing America into the future. And yet Reagan himself claimed to do just the opposite, bringing America back into its (supposedly) glorious past. Such contradictions seem to illustrate some of the flaws in Reagan's presidency--the way he claimed to speak for the Americans of the 1980s (including immigrants, homosexuals, etc.), and yet really only acted on behalf of white, straight, Christian Americans.

Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 7 Quotes

Harper Pitt: I don't understand this. If I didn't ever see you before and I don't think I did, then I don't think you should be here, in this hallucination, because in my experience the mind, which is where hallucinations come from, shouldn't be able to make up anything that wasn't there to start with, that didn't enter it from experience, from the real world. Imagination can't create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and reassembles them into visions . . . Am I making sense right now?
Prior Walter: Given the circumstances, yes.
Harper Pitt: So when we think we've escaped the unbearable ordinariness and, well, untruthfulness of our lives, it's really only the same old ordinariness and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth. Nothing unknown is knowable.

Related Characters: Prior Walter (speaker), Harper Pitt (speaker)
Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Harper Pitt experiences a bizarre, vivid hallucination in which she crosses paths with Prior Walter--a homosexual man whom she's never met before, and who's also having a vidi hallucination. During their hallucinated encounter, Prior and Harper discuss the nature of hallucination itself. Harper claims that hallucinations are just rearranged versions of the real world--in other words, one can't hallucinate anything that isn't already in the real world to begin with.

Harper's observations complicate the way we should interpret the dream sequences throughout the play. On one level, Kushner implies that the characters' dreams are just hallucinations and imagination--they're opportunities for the characters to mull over their real lives and reach surprising insights (many of the characters' epiphanies arrive in dreams, not waking life). This fits in with Harper's statements here. But on another level, there is a real fantastical element to the dream scenes. Harper and Prior have never met in real life, but they meet in this hallucination--the dream is producing something that didn't exist in either character's mind before.

Harper's observations about dreams also act as a kind of thesis statement for Angels in America itself. Kushner's play may be a work of fiction, and yet it's also a distillation of American culture during the age of AIDS. By watching the "fantasia" of the play, audiences can come to some surprising insights about their culture and their country.

Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 9 Quotes

I don't want you to be impressed. I want you to understand. This is not sophistry. And this is not hypocrisy. This is reality. I have sex with men. But unlike nearly every other man of whom this is true, I bring the guy I'm screwing to the White House and President Reagan smiles at us and shakes his hand. Because what I am is defined entirely by who I am. Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who fucks around with guys.

Related Characters: Roy Cohn (speaker), Henry , Ronald Reagan
Page Number: 46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous scene, Roy Cohn--a closeted homosexual Republican who supports Reagan--claims that he's not homosexual at all. Cohn has just found out that he has AIDS, and probably won't survive much longer. And yet Cohn insists that he's not gay--he just has sex with men from time to time. (In real life, Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS, but insisted that he had a rare "liver cancer" right up to the end of his life).

Cohn's argument for why he isn't gay is fascinating and contradictory. Cohn claims that homosexuality is not an act, but rather a label and a state of mind--an inability to be accepted within the American establishment. For Cohn to be accepted by Ronald Reagan is proof that he's straight and "respectable"--even if Cohn has homosexual sex.

Cohn is in denial, of course--he can't accept the fact that he has AIDS, or that he doesn't fit his own conservative ideal. Up until now, Cohn has had an easy time denying his homosexual behavior: his prominence in the Republican community expunges him. But now, Cohn has been "marked" with an undeniable proof of his homosexuality--a disease that (at least at the time) is almost exclusively a homosexual disease. Even after he's diagnosed, however, Cohn continues to cling to his old strategies of denial.

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.

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.

I've thought about it for a very long time, and I still don't understand what love is. Justice is simple. Democracy is simple. Those things are unambivalent. But love is very hard. And it goes bad for you if you violate the hard law of love.

Related Characters: Belize / Norman Ariago (speaker)
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of his conversation with Louis, Belize offers his own take on modern America. Belize brushes aside Louis's babble about politics and justice--such matters are simple and "unambivalent," he claims. Belize is more interested in the nature of love--something that can't be so easily understood.

Although Belize doesn't go into much depth here, his words effectively rebut everything Louis has just said. Louis sees the world in vague, abstract terms like "right," "wrong," and "politics." Louis thinks his intelligence and grasp of law will help him navigate his way through the challenges of the AIDS era. But in doing so, Louis neglects the human side of the AIDS crisis. Belize--less educated but more sensitive--sees AIDS as a challenge to humanity's capacity to love. AIDS isn't a time for easy, rigid rules of right and wrong; on the contrary, AIDS provokes individual moral dilemmas, and Belize (a nurse) sees these moral dilemmas all the time. Is it right to show love and sympathy for an AIDS victim by hugging them and feeding them, even if such behavior endangers one's own life? Is it right to care for an AIDS victim who's spent his entire life condemning homosexuals? These questions have no easy answer, and yet they're clearly guided by the ambiguous principle of love--not, as Louis believes, the hard and fast rules of politics and law.

Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

Yes. Yes. You have heard of Ethel Rosenberg. Yes. Maybe you even read about her in the history books. If it wasn't for me, Joe, Ethel Rosenberg would be alive today, writing some personal-advice column for Ms. magazine. She isn't. Because during the trial, Joe, I was on the phone every day, talking with the judge— Every day, doing what I do best, talking on the telephone, making sure that timid Yid nebbish on the bench did his duty to America, to history. That sweet unprepossessing woman, two kids, boo-hoo-hoo, reminded us all of our little Jewish mamas—she came this close to getting life; I pleaded till I wept to put her in the chair. Me. I did that. I would have fucking pulled the switch if they'd have let me. Why? Because I fucking hate traitors. Because I fucking hate communists. Was it legal? Fuck legal. Am I a nice man? Fuck nice. They say terrible things about me in the Nation. Fuck the Nation. You want to be Nice, or you want to be Effective? Make the law, or subject to it. Choose.

Related Characters: Roy Cohn (speaker), Joe Pitt , Ethel Rosenberg
Page Number: 113-114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Roy Cohn reveals the truth about his career. As a young man, Cohn was instrumental int he execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg--the two Soviet spies who were executed for supposedly stealing American secrets about nuclear technology. Cohn conspired with the judge to ensure that the Rosenbergs would be sentenced to death for their actions (the only time in American history that spies were executed during peacetime).

Cohn's pronouncement is devastating for Joe, to whom Cohn is speaking. Joe has always thought of Cohn as a hero--the very embodiment of Joe's faith in law, justice, and traditional moral values. Now, Joe sees that Cohn isn't anything of the kind: he's an immoral, bloodthirsty man who's perfectly willing to break the law to ensure the death of a mother of two children (whose guilt was in question in the first place). As a supposed defender of family values and wholesome conservatism, Cohn instead shows himself to be morally bankrupt.

Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 7 Quotes

Greetings Prophet;
The Great Work begins:
The Messenger has arrived.

Related Characters: The Angel of America (speaker), Prior Walter
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the first part of Angels in America, Prior Walter is visited by a mysterious figure, the Angel of America. We still have a lot of questions: why the Angel has come to Earth; why she's visiting Prior specifically; whether the Angel is "real," at least within the world of the play, etc.

In spite of the uncertainties surrounding the Angel's visit, her appearance reinforces the sense of prophecy and hope that's been a guiding theme of the play so far. Many of the play's characters feel a strong sense that something is going to happen, even if they have no idea what. So it's entirely appropriate that the play should end with "something" happening--an angel coming down to Earth, apparently from Heaven--even if we don't know what the angel's message will be.

Furthermore, the angel's presence reminds us of the ambiguity in Kushner's use of dream sequences. At times, dreams represent an escape for the characters; elsewhere, dreams help the characters address the problems of their waking lives with greater clarity and conviction. Which kind of dream is this? Or is it a dream at all? Kushner leaves us to wonder whether the angel is real and what effect it will have on Prior's life--and he also encourages us to feel the same vague sense of anticipation we've felt all along.

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.

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.

Perestroika: Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Bored with His Angels, Bewitched by Humanity, In Mortifying imitation of You, his least creation, He would sail off on Voyages, no knowing where.

Related Characters: The Angel of America (speaker), Prior Walter
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Angel of America paints a bizarre portrait of the supernatural world. The Angel claims that God created humans long ago, and immediately became enamored with them. Instead of paying attention to his angels, God spent all his time with human beings. The reason that God loved humans better than angels, the Angel claims, is that humans have the power of free will: they can choose who to love, where to go, and how to spend their time. Angels lack free will, and thus simply aren't very interesting.

The Angel's speech to Prior is an early sign that the Angel's message for Prior might not be an entirely friendly one. On the contrary, the Angel seems rather antagonistic to Prior and Prior's species. Thus, the Angel's behavior in this passage challenges some of the naive optimism that the characters felt earlier in the play (as well as the general idea that angels are trustworthy messengers of God--in fact these angels seem to be going behind God's back). Yes, an angel is going to deliver a great message to humanity--but there's no guarantee this message will be good.

Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

PRIOR: I have a hobby now: haunting people. Fuck home. You wait here. I want to meet my replacement.
(Prior goes to Joe's door, opens it, steps in.)
JOE: Yes, can I—
PRIOR: You look just like the dummy. She's right.
JOE: Who's right?
PRIOR: Your wife.
JOE: What?
Do you know my—
JOE: You said my wife.
PRIOR: No I didn't.
JOE: Yes you did.
PRIOR: You misheard. I'm a Prophet.
JOE: What?
What do you do?
JOE: I'm a clerk.
PRIOR: Oh big deal. A clerk. You what, you file things? Well you better be keeping a file on the hearts you break, that's all that counts in the end, you'll have bills to pay in the world to come, you and your friend, the Whore of Babylon.
(Little pause)
Sorry wrong room.

Related Characters: Prior Walter (speaker), Joe Pitt (speaker)
Page Number: 224-225
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Prior Walter tracks down Joe, the man with whom Louis has been conducting an affair after leaving Prior. Prior is understandably upset to be meeting his "replacement"--the fact that Louis has left him for a healthier, AIDS-free man just reinforces the fact that Prior doesn't have much longer to live.

The passage also emphasizes the connection between Prior's visions of the Angel of America and his relationship with Louis. As Belize has already pointed out, Prior seems to be imagining the Angel as a way of reconciling with Louis. As Belize suspected, Prior seems to be using his visions as a way of condemning Joe (he even calls Joe a "whore of Babylon," a reference to the Biblical embodiment of sin and sexuality), however clumsily. The scene--like so much of the play--is both tragic and comic: Prior's line, "Sorry, wrong room," is like the punchline of a joke, and yet the passage's message is deadly serious.

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.

Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 8 Quotes

I want the credit card. That's all. You can keep track of me from where the charges come from. If you want to keep track. I don't care.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker), Joe Pitt
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the play, Harper finally summons the courage to walk out on Joe Pitt, her mostly-closeted gay husband. She's suspected that Joe is gay for some time now, but the strength of her convictions--not to mention her love, and her fear of change--has kept her from leaving him behind. Now, however, Harper is ready to make a change in her life. Unlike many of the other great "changes" in the play, Harper's decision to abandon Joe isn't part of any lofty plan--she has no idea what's going to happen to her now.

Harper greedily asks Joe for his credit cards, however--proof that she's not entirely ready to live on her own. Evidently, Kushner doesn't try to glorify Harper's decision--she's brave, but not perfect.

Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 9 Quotes

Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that's so.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker)
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

After Harper tells Joe that she's leaving him forever, she offers a strange explanation for her actions. Harper doesn't know exactly what's going to happen to her now, but she feels that it's vitally important that she keep moving forward somehow. Harper characterizes her desire to keep moving as a basic human emotion--the desire for "painful progress." All people, she suggests, experience the pains of change as they move through life, simultaneously mourning what they've lost while also looking ahead to the future.

"Painful progress" might as well be the name of Kushner's play. Kushner is quick to criticize those who look forward to the future too eagerly (Louis, perhaps); i.e., those who believe that life has a predetermined direction to it. Yet Kushner is also critical of those like Reagan and Cohn who look back to the past with too much nostalgia. In the end, Kushner offers a compromise: we must look to the future while also mourning individual suffering and the passage of time, remaining optimistic without ever allowing optimism to blind us to reality.

Epilogue Quotes

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.

Related Characters: Prior Walter (speaker)
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Epilogue to the play, Prior speaks directly to the audience. He claims that he's been living with AIDS for several years now, and doesn't know how much longer he's going to last. And yet Prior refuses to cower before the possibility of death. Instead, he speaks out--bravely and boldly--about his condition and his sexuality.

By having Prior speak directly to the audience (in an homage to the theater of Bertolt Brecht), Kushner suggests the political ramifications of his play. Kushner wants to use his play to make political points and provoke political engagement in the audience. Prior seems to urge the audience to go out and fight for AIDS research and homosexual rights--a mandate that many fans of the play have taken up. At the same time, Prior's speech seems to sum up many of the play's key themes. Prior has no idea what the future holds, but in spite of his uncertainty, he looks forward to the future with a cautious optimism. In the meantime, Prior will not hide behind fantasy or delusion. Instead, he will be a citizen--he and the other members of the gay community will use political methods to fight for themselves and their allies.