Angels in America

Angels in America

Angels in America Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Belize goes to treat Cohn, who’s lying in bed in the hospital. Cohn yells for Belize to get out, and calls him a “queen,” a “negro,” a “communist,” and other nasty slurs. Belize ignores Cohn’s insults, and calmly takes care of Cohn, hooking him up to an IV, taking his blood pressure, etc. Belize murmurs that Cohn looks very ill, and implies that he could cause Cohn enormous pain by interfering with his IV. Cohn stops insulting Belize. Nevertheless, Cohn boasts that he’s immune to pain, and so powerful that he can make anyone do anything he wishes. When Belize is finished with his duties, he gets up to leave the room. Suddenly, Cohn shouts for Belize to stay—he admits that he doesn't want to be alone right now. Belize hesitates, then turns back to stay with Cohn.
Cohn can’t stand being in the hospital because it’s a situation in which Belize, and not he, has all the real power—Belize can literally control whether Cohn lives or dies. Cohn’s call for Belize to stay by his side, then, is surprisingly tender and moving. Cohn may be a horrible human being, but he’s also a human being, and that means that he gets lonely and needs human companionship. It’s telling that Belize keeps Cohn company—for all his hatred for Cohn, he’s still a good nurse.
Themes
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Belize stands over Cohn, listening as Cohn talks about his life and his experiences. Cohn boasts that he’s an honest man, capable of being realistic about the most terrifying things. He asks Belize, point-blank, if he’s going to die soon, and Belize calmly responds that he probably will. Belize adds that if Cohn wants to live longer, he should avoid the radiation therapy he’s scheduled to receive, as this will only weaken his immune system. Belize continues that Cohn should find a way to get out of the double-blind study that the hospital is conducting—some of the patients in the hospital are being given placebo pills instead of AZT, a potentially lifesaving AIDS drug. Cohn seems suspicious that Belize is so knowledgeable about medicine. Belize shoots back that Cohn should trust a fellow homosexual, not his WASP doctor.
Here Belize not only fulfills his duties as a nurse; he goes above and beyond his duties and gives Cohn advice on how to save his own life. Belize implies that Cohn’s doctor isn’t as objective and fair-minded as Cohn seems to think—his own homophobia might impair the way he treats Cohn. (This was a common theory at the time—in particular, it was argued that AIDS research was underfunded because few people in power genuinely cared about the homosexual community.) The big question is—why would Belize help out his sworn enemy?
Themes
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Cohn listens in amazement as Belize tells him how to survive. When Belize falls silent, Cohn asks, “Do you hate me?” Belize replies that he does. Cohn asks Belize why Belize is helping him live. Belize replies that that he “looks out for fags,” and leaves the room. Cohn yells after Belize, furious that Belize has implied that Cohn is gay.
Belize hates Cohn for what he’s done with his life, but also acknowledges that on some level, the two are still on the same “side.” This isn’t just because they’re both gay (or bi) in a world that condemns such a lifestyle, but also because they’re both human beings, and thus deserving of the dignity of life. This also exhibits the “people vs. principles” theme, and shows how Belize (and seemingly Kushner himself) comes down firmly on the “people” side. Belize’s principles go against everything Cohn stands for (and vice versa), but Cohn is still a person deserving of compassion.
Themes
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Alone in his hospital room, Cohn grabs the telephone and calls Martin Heller. Cohn asks Martin Heller to arrange for Cohn to receive an immediate dosage of AZT. When Heller pauses, Cohn tells Heller that if he doesn’t cooperate, he’ll tell “the world” about Colonel Oliver North’s connection to Heller’s “secret congressional slush fund.” Cohn hangs up the phone.
Here, Cohn is in full “octopus” form—he pulls a few strings here and there, and gets what he wants. (Oliver North was the very symbol of Reagan-era corruption and hypocrisy.) For the time being, Cohn seems to have as much power as he ever did, but it’s important to remember that he is still totally helpless in the face of AIDS.
Themes
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
Progressivism, Conservatism, and Change Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon
Get the entire Angels in America LitChart as a printable PDF.
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