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.

Identity affected by external factors

Angels in America is a play that discusses the complexity of identity construction affected by external factors. In it, we can see how some characters struggle finding or accepting their identity in a world where being themselves was wrong or against their familiar and religious values.

First, Joe Pitt, a middle-aged Mormon man, who in an attempt to accept himself and his sexual orientation, left his wife Harper to be with Louis. In one of Joe’s first attempts to be open about his sexual orientation, he tells his Mormon mother, Hanna Pitt, and she answers, You really ought to go home now to your wife. I need to go to bed. This phone call— We will just forget this phone call.” Despite the fact that he is a grown up man, Joe struggles accepting himself, in part, because of the family and religious values he has, which I consider are represented through the character of Hanna who shows herself really closed towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Second, the homosexual couple of Prior Walter and Louis Ironson is in crisis due to the cowardice of Louis to face the AIDS contracted by his partner, and decides to left him not knowing which was his role in this situation. The character of Louis is described during the funeral at the beginning of the play as a Jewish man and member of a religious family “how we fought, for the family, for the Jewish home” (p.10) In this case, we can also observe the familiar and religious external factor affecting the character’s process of accepting and showing himself as homosexual.

In this play, we can notice the complexity of the character in a constant oscillation between what they consider they should do and what they really want to do in an attempt to accept or discover themselves. We can say that this process is even more affected by the influence of external factors such as their religion, family values, jobs, politics and a whole world that looks at them judging for going against social norms.

What I lost by leaving

Only later did I understand what I lost by leaving. Loss of a

daily sustaining connection to a landscape that I still carry with me

as home. Loss of a rural, white, working-class culture that values

neighbors rather than anonymity… (p.38)

 I consider that in this passage, we can identify language and vocabulary related to loss. Not only because the word was repeated 3 times, but also because this helps the writer to highlight how he feels, and creates an image in the reader’s mind. He helps us to see that, while trying to define himself, he went to a different place where he found his home: “queer.” However, in this discovering, he lost the place where he grew up. That beautiful rural place where he feels he has belonged to for so many years, but due to the fact that he found himself in the urban life where he could be queer more easily, he was forced to let that first place behind. Here is where Eli distinguishes the life in urban and rural places. Urban places are shown as big cities where people could be themselves without taking into account the norms and stereotypes more easily than in the rural zones, where all the people know among themselves and those stereotypes and norms are stronger. In this last one, Eli would never be allowed to discover himself and be who he really wanted.

This reading helped me to understand how, due to the discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, a lot of people struggled trying to define themselves. Not only for going against the stereotypes, but also because knowing where home is, is a really important part of our definition of identity, and if that is not clear, then one’s identity may become unclear.

What I am really trying to say here is that I think these lines show that in every attempt to define who he is, Eli goes back to his past, and he shows that he cannot have both ideas of himself, he only can have one. By having queer as a home, he lost his previous home that was a place he loved and enjoyed a lot. For him, there is no way of defining himself without losing.

The Search for Oneself in “Loving in the War Years”

The essay Loving in the War Years written by Cherríe L. Moraga had a big impact on me and especially the passage I am paying attention to which is the “Journal Entry: 2 de Julio 1982” that can be found on page xi.

The first thing that draw my attention was the fact that these journal entries are extremely short for a person who makes a living writing. However, Cherríe makes it clear: “It takes the greatest effort even to put pen to paper” (xi). Also, it is a personal journal, it is supposed to be private. Therefore, I consider the length of this entry is another way she has to let her emotions flow: with the lack of long descriptions we can appreciate this discomfort.

On the other hand, it’s precisely in her words from whichI can grasp the rest of her emotions: “effort”, “weighing”, “depression”, “face flat” (xi). From my point of view, with all these words of sadness, this journal seems to be a constant fight between two facets: her desire for expressing her identity and tell her story and the overwhelming feeling of emptiness that surrounds her when it seems that all what could be described and told about her own identity is already said but it is not enough, that the pursuit of this understanding is not over. That is why the expression “bankrupt of feeling” makes sense.

Writing is, apart from her profession, her way of giving her life and way of being meaning, her way of exorcising her demons. When she tells her lover she is depressed, her lover reminds her this is not a feeling but a state. And still, this depression she feels is “keeping the writing back” (xi). The contradiction of keeping something that gives her life meaning back because it does alter feelings inside her that are not pleasant is the key point of this search for herself.

All these elements that I have noticed led me to the conclusion that this passage is about the difficulty of finding or develop one’s identity, especially through telling your own story by writing, creating frustration and discomfort.

Insomniac… or the attempt to sleep without success.

The passage I’m paying attention to is the two first stanzas of the poem Insomniac written by Saeed Jones. I have noticed several things, details that I found worth mentioning. The boy is said to have “wild legs” (1), maybe a representation of his “wild tastes” or way of being, which is not what this society or this mother of his consider “normative”.

Also I found interesting how it says that this boy “stole your eyes the day he was born” (1) instead of saying “stole your heart” because perhaps she is more focused on the superficiality and the appearances. Choosing that part of the body, the eyes, may be a way of portraying that superficiality, because at the end of the day, her mother could be more worried about how his boy looked like or behaved in front of others instead of being worried about his happiness.

Also, it has really grabbed my attention the second stanza. The “language that you’ve tried to keep from him” (1) could represent this same way of behaving or talking, employing his personality that she tried to keep away from him to let her know that she is a nightmare for him.

I truly think that the general concept of the whole poem is condensed in these first lines. As I see it, Jones seems to employ a very specific diction related to parenthood and especially bad parenting that is also recurrent in the rest of his book of poems. Even the title, Insomniac seems to refer to the insomniac a mother feels when she is worried about her son. Therefore, the relationship of this mother and her son is complicated and hurtful, maybe she suffers about who and how his son is.