Harper’s Valium Addiction: A form of escapism

In Angels in America, Harper’s addiction to Valium in order to experience her hallucinations is representative of her desire to escape the truth; however, imagination is finite, and no matter how hard she tries, the truth almost always seems to reveal itself.

In the interaction between Harper and Prior within Harper’s hallucination and Prior’s dream within Act 1 Scene 7, Harper comes to the depressing realization that even the construction of her hallucinations has limitations and that they’re “really only the same old ordinariness and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth” (Kushner, 33). This underscores the way in which Harper’s hallucinations may appear to be boundless, when in reality, her imagination can only extend so far. Harper describes this as a “depressing hallucination” (Kushner, 33) because that means that even her Valium won’t allow her to run from the truth and the reality that her marriage will never be what she wants it to be, because it was constructed around the repression of Joe’s true identity as a gay man.

It’s ironic that Harper enters the cyclical nature of her hallucinations as a means to escape from the truth, when it’s one of her hallucinations that forces her to confront her reality and the truth that her “husband’s a homo” (Kushner, 33), as unveiled by Prior. Although this truth was characterized within the play as the “[t]hreshold of revelation” (Kushner, 34), in some ways it seems as if Harper was always aware of Joe’s homosexuality, which contributed to her continual usage of popping Valium pills, because that meant that she did not have to confront this reality.

Harper has such a strong desire to escape the truth that Joe is gay, because she confesses that she can “make up anything but I can’t dream that away” (Kushner, 52), where “that” is referring to the love that she has for Joe. In confronting the truth, Harper would have to come to terms with the fact that the love that she has for Joe is not reciprocated, where her hallucinations don’t even have the power to transform or erase the existence of this love that she has for him.

3 thoughts on “Harper’s Valium Addiction: A form of escapism”

  1. I appreciate your thoughts on Harper’s character, as I feel she often gets overlooked during analysis of the text. What you have written really reflects how Kushner is able to create conflict that is applicable to a greater audience. Audiences do not need to be a gay Mormon or a Valium addict to relate to themes about facing the truth after running from it for so long. This idea also reflects a general struggle of members of the LGBTQ+ community, and how many hide their true identity for fear of persecution.

  2. I think this is a wonderful analysis of Harper’s use of Valium. I agree with the idea that Harper is using these drugs as a form of escapism. I think that Harper, like parents, may not want to accept that their loved ones are gay. I think this is especially prevalent in Eve Sedgwick’s comment about how parents of queer individuals often wish their child was dead instead of accepting the facts. In this case, I believe that Harper is using drugs instead of hoping for her husband’s death, to cope with the fact that he will not love her how she loves him. I also connect this to Jones’ way of using the third person to distance himself from homosexual thoughts. For Saeed Jones, his use of third person was his form of escapism and for Harper, her form of escapism was drugs.

  3. I think that your analysis of Harper’s Valium usage is spot on. She uses the medication as a way of escaping her day to day struggles, and her character has even more ties to escapism, such as wanting to move to Antarctica. I feel as though Kushner uses her as a tool in the play to portray how people often use coping as a maladaptive coping mechanism under stressful situations, and has succeeded in making her relatable enough that anyone can relate to her struggles, whether they happen to be religious, queer, both, or neither.

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