Joe vs Louis

In the play “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner, the characters of Louis Ironson and Joe Pitt are parallels to each other. These two characters share a common trait of at their cores being guilty cowards. This parallel between the two of them is shown in Act I Scene 4 in the way they both react poorly to their respective partners, Harper and Prior when they come to them with worries and bad news. In this scene, Prior tells Louis about his AIDS diagnosis, and rather than being comforting Louis keeps telling Prior to “stop” (Kushner 21) and repeatedly saying “fuck you” (Kushner 21) when Prior continues. The moment between Joe and Harper in the next scene mirrors this interaction. Joe is trying to convince Harper they should move to Washington DC for his job, and when Harper expresses her reservations about moving he is continually dismissive of her worries, asking her “how many pills” (Kushner 24) she took that day rather than try to understand and listen to her anxieties. The parallel between Joe and Louis becomes even more obvious in Act I Scene 8, a “split scene: Prior and Louis in their bed. Louis reading, Prior cuddled next to him. Harper in Brooklyn, alone. Joe enters.” (Kushner 36). The scene starts with Harper continuously asking Joe, “where were you?” and alluding to asking him about his sexuality and he responds by once again asking “how many pills?” (Kushner 36), doing everything in his power to change the subject and avoid Harper’s questions. The interaction ends with Joe suggesting to Harper that they “Ask God for help. Ask him together” (Kushner 40) rather than honestly answer her questions. On the other side of the split scene, Prior tries to tell Louis about his worsening condition but Louis just gets upset by the information prompting Prior to say how he always “winds up comforting” (Kushner 39) Louis whenever he tries to tell him about his symptoms. As the exchange continues, Louis eventually asks Prior if he “walked out on this? Would you hate (him) forever?” (Kushner 40) to which Prior responds, “yes” (Kushner 40). These mirroring interactions show Louis and Joe’s shared reluctance to be honest with and genuinely comfort their partners. Overall it is very clear that Kushner is trying to set up these two characters as parallels to each other in the very first few scenes. 

One thought on “Joe vs Louis”

  1. I agree that both Louis and Joe treat their partners very poorly. I feel that it is probably because of insecurities they hold themself. Louis, for example, feels a deep guilt that he both doesn’t have AIDs but still is somewhat responsible for Prior’s care. The way he treats Prior feels borne out of loathing, almost a disdain that Prior may have been careless. Louis’ guilt can be seen when he is in the park at night asking a man to have sex with him without a condom. The sex itself almost seems to be a manifestation of grief and guilt at Prior’s worsening state. I think deep down Louis believes that Prior should’ve been more careful, and he is upset that the man he loved is now on a course to die. However, I think Louis also feels immense guilt for that opinion as a gay man himself, and so he separates from Prior as a way to alleviate that guilt.

    On the other hand, Joe seems to feel intense guilt pertaining to his religion. Mormonism places such an emphasis on the family unit, and that is something that Joe is remarkably failing. He has not fulfilled his role as the head of his household, and he has not stayed faithful in his marriage. Additionally, in Mormonism there is importance placed on having children. Joe and Harper have not had children, nor are they coming close to having children, and this is something Joe feels guilt about even though there is really no other evidence suggesting that he wants kids. Joe, like Louis, chooses to run rather than confront his problems head on. After his mother denied his claim of homosexuality, Joe vanished, spineless to fix his situation because of the unbearable guilt of his religion’s expectations.

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