Angels in America

Angels in America

Angels in America Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
We are in a strange room in Heaven. There are six angels sitting in the room. The angels listen to a radio, which reports on an upcoming disaster at Chernobyl, due to occur on Earth in 62 days. One angel, who claims to represent Antarctica, says he’s looking forward to this event, since it will bring winter to the Earth. Together, the angels are trying to understand how to deal with humans in the absence of God.
The angels seem to have a knowledge of the future, hence their ability to foretell the devastating nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Harper’s paranoia about the environment, which may have seemed melodramatic at first, now becomes terrifyingly real: the Earth really could face an eternal winter, as she’d feared.
Themes
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
Suddenly, Prior appears, accompanied by the Angel of America. The Angel of America announces that she’s brought “the prophet” with her. Prior is carrying a heavy book—the same book he found in the leather suitcase. Prior shows the angels his book, and says that he’s come to return it to them. He goes on to explain that he can’t possibly abide by the angels’ prophecy: mankind was meant to move and be unpredictable, not “settle down,” as the angels want.
Prior rejects the angels’ prophecy because he values life and uncertainty too much. While there’s a certain comfort in “settling down,” there’s also something inherently human about the alternative. This shows that Prior was moved bi Harper’s speech in the earlier scene: life is about change. This is Kushner’s way of siding with progressivism against conservatism: he sees the fundamental human attribute as the capacity for change and progress.
Themes
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
Prior explains that God is never coming back, either to Earth or to the angels. God would never dare to show his face on Earth after all the suffering he’s created. Prior recommends that the angels “sue the bastard” for walking out on them—“how dare he?” When Prior falls silent, the Angel of America murmurs, “Thus spake the prophet.”
Part of the comedy of this section comes from the way that Prior—and then the angels themselves—breaks down the formality of his encounter. Thus, Prior brazenly shouts out, “Sue the bastard!”—a vulgar proclamation that the angels (seemingly trying to uphold their solemnity and order) must accept as gospel.
Themes
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
Prior tells the angels that he wants to be healthy again. He begs the angels to prevent mankind from falling victim to AIDS. The angels explain that they don't know how. The angels offer Prior a chance to live in Heaven with them, but Prior refuses. He turns to leave the room. Before he goes, he repeats his demand to the Angel of America—he wants to be blessed with more life. The Angel of America warns Prior that life is overrated. She reminds him of life’s smallness and sparseness, but Prior will not be dissuaded—he claims that there’s value in all life, whether it’s spent in happiness or misery.
The tragedy of this scene is that AIDS is too big and complicated for anyone—even an angel—to cure. And yet in the face of unspeakable tragedy, Prior makes the bold, reckless, and downright heroic decision to embrace life in all its uncertainty. Even though his life could be filled with pain and tragedy, Prior wouldn’t trade life for anything—it has inherent value.
Themes
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
Get the entire Angels in America LitChart as a printable PDF.
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The angels turn to look at one another, and as they confer, Prior walks away, slowly. While Prior walks away, the angels make a mysterious sign in Prior’s direction.
It seems that the angels are blessing Prior after all, but whether this will accomplish anything we can’t say.
Themes
Prophets and Prophecies Theme Icon
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
The Clash between People and Principles Theme Icon