Joe Pitt comes home to his apartment, where he finds Harper waiting for him. Harper asks, “Where were you,” but Joe doesn’t have a good answer. Harper mutters that she’s behaving exactly like a pill-popping, sex-starved housewife “should” behave.
Everyone in this play struggles with some kind of stereotype: they know how society expects them to behave.
Joe angrily asks Harper if there’s something she wants to ask him, but Harper replies, “Tell me without making me ask you.” She goes on to say that Joe’s face has changed over the years—she can barely believe he’s the same man she met years ago. She also complains that she hates having sex with him.
Harper’s anger and frustration with Joe builds quickly. Clearly, she’s been frustratedly thinking about these things (sex, love, her husband) for many years now.
Harper asks Joe, “Are you a homo?” She threatens to burn their apartment to the ground if Joe doesn’t answer her. Joe whispers, “No.”
Harper’s experience in her hallucination has inspired her to confront her husband.
In another apartment, Louis and Prior sit in their bed, talking about Judaism and the law. The law, Louis tries to explain, should mirror the complexity of life. In Judaism, on the other hand, things are only “right” or “wrong”—a huge oversimplification of the universe.
Kushner has a clever way of juxtaposing scenes within scenes. Here, Louis is talking to Prior, but he seems to be commenting on the other scene between Joe and Harper: the simplicity of religious law (which forbids homosexuality) just can’t address the complexities of human desire, in Joe or in anyone else. This is also an important aspect of the theme of people vs. principles—no set of dogma or principles can contain the reality and value of all human life.
Prior tells Louis that his condition is deteriorating quickly—he has new lesions, kidney problems, and diarrhea. Louis says, “I really hate this,” and Prior asks him to keep talking about the law.
Prior’s condition is so huge and horrifying (essentially a long, slow death sentence) that Louis can’t handle discussing it directly—even if Prior himself now seems cynically realistic.
Reluctantly, Louis asks Prior if Prior loves him, and Prior says that he does. Louis asks Prior what he’d do if Louis walked out on him. Prior says that he’d hate Louis forever.
We can sense that Louis is thinking about leaving Prior, and it’s hard to be totally unsympathetic to this reaction. Louis is being selfish and abandoning his lover in a time of need, but he’s also trying to survive and to pursue his own happiness in safety.
Back in the Pitts’ apartment, Joe tells Harper that it’s time to pray. Harper asks God if her husband is gay, and Joe explodes. He yells that it makes no difference whether or not he “was” gay—provided that he’s worked very hard to be “decent and correct.” Harper sneers at Joe’s “Utah talk.” Joe accuses Harper of trying to destroy him.
Joe doesn’t deny his homosexuality as he did before; he just says that he’s worked hard to repress it. Harper seems to want Joe to admit what he is—while Joe interprets her goals as destructive, they’re actually pretty productive and healthy for them both. Harper is forcing her husband to ”out himself,” but she’s also forcing him to stop denying his own nature. This is the tragedy of trying to force oneself to fit a preordained set of rules—whether it’s “decency” and conservatism or a religious law—when such rules cannot contain all the diversity of human life and potential.
Harper tells Joe that she’s going to have a baby—a baby who’ll turn out just like her. Joe asks Harper if she’s telling the truth, and Harper replies, “No, yes, no, yes.” Harper leaves the bedroom, leaving Joe to pray.