Living With Ghosts

In the play Angels in America by Tony Kushner, there are many themes on display. One of these themes is that the past is not dead. One tool that the play uses to implement this is the idea of ghosts. One example of this was the portrayal of Ethel Rosenberg, who was put to death after a trial that was prosecuted by Roy Cohn, who comes back to haunt him when he is close to death. In an almost contradictory manor however, She doesn’t seem overtly hostile to Cohn, as she even calls an ambulance on his behalf to take him to the hospital (Kushner, 117-116), as it can be argues that Cohn is directly responsible for her death. Another instance of ghosts in the play are the “Prior Priors”. During parts of the play, Prior is visited by two versions of himself who have had their own lives before him. They visit Prior multiple times in the play, not always to interact with Prior, but in ways to help guide him, especially when the Angel appears (Kushner, 118) when they arrive before the Angel and talk with Prior. This shows us yet another instance of ghosts guiding a character along in the narrative. These examples of ghosts in the play highlight that while the past is the past, it is most certainly not dead, as it continues to live on in the form of memories and impacts. This is a particularly telling theme in the context of the AIDS epidemic, where there are many many ghosts, whose lives are not erased by their deaths, but live on in the lives of the people who knew them.

3 thoughts on “Living With Ghosts”

  1. I appreciate your analysis of the ghosts in this text. Your commentary on the past, especially LGBTQ+ history, reminded me of Adrienne Rich’s poems, specifically “Diving into the Wreck”. In that poem, she describes the discovery of queer history in an abstract way, much like Kushner does with the ghosts of the original Priors and Ethel Rosenberg. I definitely think that Kushner is trying to call attention to the importance of remembering queer history, even though he wrote Angels in America soon after the height of the AIDS crisis.

  2. Going even broader, your analysis reminded me of the scene we watched from “Uncoupled”, where Neil Patrick Harris realizes that the younger LGBTQ community no longer considers AIDS to be a threat. Despite the medications, help, and treatments available for AIDS, the LGBTQ community is most definitely still coping with the trauma of the epidemic and will likely continue to cope with it. Core pieces of work that center around AIDS, like Angels in America, will continue to guide the LGBTQ community, much like how Prior is guided by prior.

  3. Like you pointed out, the ghosts of the AIDS epidemic have lived on in the memories of the queer community. This especially reminds me of the poem Map of the Americas by Qwo-Li Driskill. Like Prior, the speaker of the poem is haunted by those who came before them, visiting them as they lay in bed with their white lover. Like the AIDS epidemic, the forced relocation and genocide of Native Americans continues to impact people living in those communities today. The ghosts of the past haunt the living, acting as reminders of shared history.

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