We’re at the Mormon Visitors’ Center, and Joe is standing with Hannah, his mother. Joe tries to explain why he abandoned his wife, but Hannah refuses to listen. Joe asks Hannah why she’s come to New York, but Hannah claims that she doesn’t even remember. She criticizes Joe for his cruelty and insensitivity—he’s left Harper to spend all her time with dioramas.
Hannah’s criticism of Joe is both well founded and ironic, since Hannah herself has left Harper with the dioramas, too. Joe’s decision to return to his mother reflects the growing distance between him and Louis.
Joe tells Hannah that he’s come to take Harper home. Hannah says this is a foolish idea—and anyway, Harper isn’t at the Visitors’ Center. Heartbroken, Joe tells Hannah that he’s spent his entire life running—first he ran from Utah to New York, and now he’s running for no discernible reason. Hannah tells Joe his problem: Joe has always lived his life according to what he wants, not what God tells him to do. Joe tells Hannah that she should never have come to New York, and he should never have called her that night. With these words, Joe leaves.
Movement is one of the key themes of this novel—the characters feel a strong desire to migrate, or, more abstractly, to progress and change their way of life (it’s this second sense of the word “movement” that Joe is describing here). While Hannah sees Joe’s behavior as sinful, the play doesn’t—Joe is merely exercising his natural human instinct. There is nothing more quintessentially human than the desire for change—this is exactly what the Angel of America told Prior.
After Joe leaves the Visitors’ Center, Prior walks in. He exclaims, “He’s a Mormon, too?” Hannah asks Prior if he knows Joe, and Prior nods. Hannah asks Prior other questions—if Prior is a homosexual, if he’s stereotypically gay, etc. Prior begins to cry. He asks Hannah, “Do I have a fever?” and Hannah feels his forehead, nodding. Prior tells Hannah to warn Joe what in store for him: when Joe gets sick, he’ll become weak, fat, and flabby. Prior, weak and weeping, falls to the floor. Hannah helps him up, and tries to help him to a cab. Prior asks Hannah to take him to the hospital, and she nods.
We should keep in mind that Prior is the first openly gay man Hannah has ever met, excluding Joe. This is important, as Prior is a kind of “test” for Hannah—how will she treat a gay man she’s never met before? We’d already seen evidence that she’s an intensely moral person (someone who’d never deny help to someone in need, gay or straight)—but her behavior still comes as a surprise, and here it’s proven that she is another character (like Belize) who seems to put people above principles—a quality Kushner elevates.