In classic terms, Prior is the character most easily identifiable as the play's protagonist—ironically and precisely because he is the play's chief victim. Prior begins the play at the mercy of everyone and everything around him: abandoned by Louis, infected with a disease that takes control of his body and its functions, and harassed by a merciless and unfathomable Angel. As a homosexual, an effeminate man and a person with AIDS, he is also the victim of social prejudice as epitomized by the self-hating but extremely powerful Roy.
Over the course of the play, however, the victim gains power and authority far beyond what we imagined he was capable of. The characters who seem the most confident: the strong, the opinionated, the straight-acting, those who wield influence and wealth in the world—the Roys, Joes and Louises—are humbled and changed. At the same time, dispossessed and marginal people—whether by identity, be it black, female or gay, by ideology, or by their own passive personalities—take their places as moral arbiters and shapers of destiny. Put simply, the meek inherit this earth. In Prior's case, he turns the emotional tables on Louis, essentially from being a "woman scorned" to having the wisdom and the willpower to reject Louis's entreaties. His AIDS continues to plague him but not to dominate him, and he defiantly delivers the play's final, stirring monologue. And most spectacularly, the prophet who wanted nothing more than to run from his Angel ends up cowing the assembled ranks of Heaven with an impassioned bit of "theology," wresting from them that which he believes he deserves physically as well as intellectually.
In another, literally progressive trend, Prior embodies the rejection of conservatism and stasis and the embrace of a painful but necessary spirit of change. Prior's connection to stasis is rooted in his very being: in his ancient, respectable bloodlines and in "The End" inscribed in his veins, whether in reference to his AIDS or to the homosexuality that will leave him childless. But by rejecting his Angel-imposed prophecy, Prior becomes the prophet of an alternate philosophy that the play shares. His speech in Heaven is the clearest statement of the theme of stasis versus change that predominates throughout the play, and the firmest rejection of stasis offered throughout.
More characters from Angels in America
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