Guilt in “Angels in America”

This post aims at highlighting the feelings of guilt that arise on two different scenes proceeding from the most controversial characters of this play: Roy M. Cohn and Louis Ironson. I will try to show that precisely these two figures show their guilt by expressing the way they do and their own actions.

Firstly, the conversation from the scene 2 (or rather Louise’s monologue) between Louise and Belize in which the former does not stop saying he is not a racist but behaves exactly as those “racists [that] try to use race here as a tool in a political struggle” (Kushner 97) is very revealing. This monologue made me wonder why he is suddenly so obsessed in talking non-stop with Belize about race, identity, and historical and collective memory in pejorative terms. Kushner clarifies this in the character of Belize, who states “the guilt fueling this peculiar tirade is obviously already swollen bigger than your hemorrhoids” (Kushner 97). This racist, proud and rude monologue and the moment he goes to the park to have sex with other man without protection are signs of the attempts of self-destruction and discomfort he is feeling for having abandoned Prior. A key phrase here is also uttered by Belize: “Louis, are you deliberately trying to make me hate you?” (Kushner 98), indeed it is an attempt of making everybody hate him, because above all, he is the one that hates himself the most.

On the other hand, something similar happens in the scene 5, when Roy is talking with Joe about Joe’s refusal to help Roy. The latter blurts out repeatedly that Joe is a coward, and his mantra of “the end justifies the means”. However, the defensively way he expresses, with such aggressivity could lead us to assume he is not happy about what he did when he mentions of all a sudden Ethel Rosenberg: “I pleaded till I wept to put her in the chair. Me. I did that. I would have fucking pulled the switch if they’d have let me” (Kushner 113). If he is so proud of this “murder” as he named it very defiant, why does the hallucination of Ethel appear? One does not have ghosts if they are not a torment for that person. He even talks to her with familiarity, as though this was not the first time she appeared to him: “What is this, Ethel, Halloween? You trying to scare me?” (Kushner 116-7). If she is a hallucination, it is a little bit strange that Roy’s mind portrays her as someone nice, even when she knows he was responsible for her to go to the electric chair. This can also be his way of punishing himself for what he did: the one you killed is forgiving you when you are not capable of doing it.

In conclusion, Kushner employs very subtle techniques to make us deepen in the psychology of characters that hide their emotions through how they express or interact with their environment. In both examples, we deal with guilt in disguise of pride.

3 thoughts on “Guilt in “Angels in America””

  1. I found your analysis of the theme guilt to be very interesting, Vilattia. The character of Louis is an interesting commentary on anxiously-politically correct people that make me wonder if Kushner is exaggerating a trait to make a point. I see Roy Cohn as the politically right representative and Louis as the left one, seemingly in opposition to each other though plagued by the same feelings of guilt. They both expend lots of energy trying to prove that they are innocent, or that their harms are justified by their means. Perhaps Kushner is making a non-partisan point that instead of babbling on about how “not-guilty” we are on either side of the political spectrum, we should attend to the people who we have harmed or are neglecting in the process.

  2. I really like how you emphasize that, although Roy and Louis are disparate characters, they still share the same feelings of guilt. I think by doing this Kushner demonstrates the complexity of the characters, and the ways that their struggles intersect and overlap, even if on the surface they may seem incomparable. I think that Roy and Louis, in internalizing these feelings of guilt, isolate themselves and attempt to conceal their feelings of pain, when in reality, they don’t want to be truly alone and want to feel a semblance of love. I think they both struggle with being vulnerable with the people around them and most of all, with themselves, which only works to further alienate them and subject them to the pain they are trying to desperately avoid.

  3. I think this analysis is super interesting and I really love your implication on guilt. When I personally look at Roy and Louis through their behaviors and dialogues, I could not really see any guilty senses coming from them and I could only see the surface of the story: their toxic masculinity. Your emphasis on guilt on these characters added layers of complexity for both character, especially providing a good sense of a well-written character with an expectable development coming from the author himself. Roy and Louis, both are toxic, but they serve in two different spectrums of political agenda, yet they are encompassed in the same feeling of guilt for their behaviors and actions.

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