Dream and Reality

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1995) deals with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, depicting the stages three entangled couples go through while they are confronted with the disease. Dealing with such a serious and even grave topic, the play is expected to be realistic. What is somehow startling for the reader is, however, Kushner’s use of the supernatural in such a context. He indeed alternately inserts scenes depicting apparitions and taking place in dreams and hallucinations. This alternation between dream and reality effectively illustrates the characters’ often unstable state of mind. But it also gives the play a general sense of absurdity, and even, at times, a somehow burlesque quality, which needs to be examined in further detail.

Scene 7, Act I, is the first apparition scene of the play. Harper and Prior simultaneously appear in each other’s dreams, even though they have never seen each other. Kushner makes an extensive use of the lexical field of make-believe in this scene. This is indeed visible through the use of verbs such as “feigning,” “mimes,” “believe in,” “to make up”, and nouns such as “hallucination,” “dream,” “visions,” “untruthfulness,” “falseness,” “appearance,” “imagination,” as opposed to “the real world” (37: 38). Prior’s appearance in makeup, and references to a “theme party” and “drag” are also proof of the staging of a scene based on notions of unreality, that aims at unsettling the reader (37: 39). In contradiction with this particular semantic field, Prior and Harper both acknowledge that dreams can be “the very threshold of revelation sometimes” (39). Scene 7 indeed builds up the dramatical tension that will be at its peak in the last two scenes of the act. In terms of “revelations,” this is where Harper learns about her husband’s homosexuality, and where Prior is confronted with his sickness. And it is somehow contradictory that Kushner choses for such important revelations to take place in a scene staging a dream.

3 thoughts on “Dream and Reality”

  1. Your ideas pose an interesting point, and an extremely relevant tie into Oranges are not the Only Fruit. After Jeanette goes through a chapter, she ends the chapter always with a ‘made up’ story which captures what she has previously learned, and her revelations. Specifically, the story of the Prince and the concept of perfection which wraps up the chapter of Leviticus, when Jeanette first starts to see herself separating from the church. In a way, her alternate view of reality, or her dreams, are Jeanette’s way of coping with her struggles, and they help her understand herself better. This is parallel to your point in Angels in America because Harper and Prior both use this dream to understand their own situations better, and aid them in the coping process.

  2. You make a good point about the language of scene 7. I hadn’t noticed how much of it was language in the scene was associated with falseness. Does this happen in the other scenes with prominent visions or do you think that would be too much, even for Kushner? It’s true that other scenes with visions are scenes of revaluation in the play, but what do you think is the revaluation in this scene? Or does it merely serve as an introduction to the unreality in the show?

  3. There is a clear irony between the use of dreams and the brutal reality of what the people must deal with when they acquire AIDS. There is a clear juxtaposition of the words used yet you can relate the words you chose back to your argument. The seriousness that is seen in this scene is seen through the words that were chosen but there are some that are opposite and exact synonyms for each other. You can relate the use of the words to the various relationships that emerge in the novel and point out the fact that all the relationships end the same. Also, what is the significance of the dream and why might the author use the method of dreaming in such a serious position to reveal the truth of the pain.

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