Acceptance in America

Angels in America is a play that demonstrates the struggle in asking for help when one’s voice is hardly recognized. It’s fitting for a play centered around struggle to begin with a funeral, but the funeral differs from what follows in the rest of the play: it’s final. There’s a sense of completeness to the struggle of Sarah Ironson. Even though her journey lives on in her descendants, they “can never make the crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist,” according to Rabbi Chemelwitz. What she has lived and died for is, largely, secure.

The same can not be said for the main characters in this play. The AIDS crisis in the ’80s presented an open-ended threat to the gay community pushed on by forces of negligence and ignorance. When these characters experience loss over the course of the play–whether a life or a relationship–there’s almost always a notion of social forces at play. Looking at Joe, he struggles deeply with the conflict between his sexuality and the influences of people most important in his life. When he drunkenly confesses his sexuality to his mother, she immediately rejects him and his words as “ridiculous,” asking him to return to his wife. When Joe later confesses the same to Roy, seeking an acceptance beyond a paternal blessing–an acceptance of his authentic self–Roy responds angrily and also orders Joe to reunite with his wife.

Neither Joe’s mother nor the closest person he had to a father were willing to recognize him for who he was. Similarly, the AIDS crisis was able to occur because people willingly failed to recognize a growing problem: a problem that only became recognizable once it began affecting straight men and women. Perhaps this is exactly what Roy recognized when he said “Homosexuals are men… who have zero clout.”

2 thoughts on “Acceptance in America”

  1. This is an incredibly astute observation which I had previously not put together. Acceptance of reality is a big through line for many of the character’s in this plat. Most obviously it’s seen in Harper’s character who literally suffers from hallucination which hinder her from living in and accepting reality. Then in Roy’s character we see the unwillingness to accept the fact that he is anything but a straight man when we know that he was in fact homosexual.

  2. Your interpretation of Joe’s need for acceptance and his need for closure is spot on. When people are hurt in order for most of them to move on they need some kind of closure. Joe is a perfect example that some people just will not provide the closure you deserve so you have to find it within to give it to yourself. It’s very difficult especially when people keep telling you you’re doing the wrong thing in Joe’s case. It’s even more difficult when the one thing they won’t accept you cannot change.

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