Of all the characters in Angels in America, Louis most resembles Tony Kushner: a young, progressive, Jewish New Yorker whose wordiness feels like an affectionate parody of the playwright's own rambling prose style. While it is always problematic, albeit tempting, to equate author with character, we can at least infer from the similarity between Louis and Kushner that Kushner does not intend Louis to be seen as a heartless villain, as some readers have proposed. It would be easy enough to reduce Louis to a caricature—the idealist who loudly discusses virtue but reneges on his own responsibilities. Louis's actions are clearly condemned: his abandonment of Prior is weak, selfish and insensitive. But because the hardships of his situation are painted so vividly that the audience can understand Louis's failings and empathize with him. Caring for Prior is complicated and excruciating, and Louis's guilt is genuine. He walks out on Prior with his eyes open, aware of the callousness of his action (despite a few petty attempts to justify himself) yet brave enough to do what he feels he must.
Belize berates Louis for his "Big Ideas," but introducing Big Ideas into the play is one of Louis's important roles. Louis's musings to Prior about the meting out of eternal justice form the core of his eventual answer to Roy's and Joe's amoral veneration of pure law. In a conversation with Emily, Prior's nurse, Louis is the one to describe Prior's venerable heritage, which introduces the themes of history and stability. Most obviously, Louis voices most of the play's ideas about politics (at least, the ideas that the playwright accepts—Joe is just as political as Louis, but his ideas are ultimately discarded). Louis is the spokesman for a brand of democratic optimism with which Belize finds fault but which Belize does not fully discredit. In a play whose title promises a discussion of national themes, Louis is the character who most consistently examines the big picture.
Louis's journey from callous heartbreaker to sincere penitent is one of the strongest moral developments in the play. For a long time, Louis wallows in self-pity and self-protection, but over time he learns to take responsibility for his actions. Prior accuses Louis of crying without endangering himself, a meaningless performance of emotion. But by the end of the play, there seems to be no question that Louis's love for Prior is real and that Louis understands the true import of what he did. Prior's journey to the afterlife and back is mirrored by Louis's voyage to self-awareness.
More characters from Angels in America
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