Angels in America

Summary

Perestroika, Act Four, Scenes 1–5

Summary Perestroika, Act Four, Scenes 1–5

Analysis

Roy's blessing of Joe in Scene One sets up a definition of the word that becomes particularly important in Act Five. "Life. That's what they're supposed to bless. Life," Roy tells Joe. In other words, to bless is to give more life. Kushner attributes this definition to a Hebrew translation proposed by Harold Bloom, a Yale professor and literary critic. In Act Five, when Prior ascends to Heaven to confront the Angels, he demands a blessing of life from them. Roy's blessing, by contrast, is freely given. It is an appropriate gift for him to offer, since Roy values survival above all else: he admires the pubic lice because they are hard to kill, and he is determined to remain a lawyer until the day he dies not because he hopes to accomplish anything specific but simply for the value of lasting. And yet life is the one thing Roy does not have—he dies at the end of the act, only two days later. Because it is so precious to him and because he possesses so little, his gift of life to Joe is heartfelt and moving, a tribute to the love he feels for him.

Roy's love for Joe is complicated, a father's love for a son with an undercurrent of a lover's jealousy and lust. Roy repeatedly states his paternal affection for Joe, and his blessing is here offered as a substitute for that of Joe's real father. Yet Roy allows his hands to linger on Joe's forehead, hushing him when he threatens to interrupt the moment. It is undeniably sexual. Nor is it atypical: Roy is constantly grabbing Joe, pulling him close, roughing him up, even at one point tenderly smoothing his jacket. Roy is also repeatedly dismissive of Harper, offering to help Joe get a divorce or urging him to leave her behind and move to Washington, where he will be snugly fitted into Roy's world.

These sexual undertones help us make sense of Roy's reaction to Joe's disclosure that he has moved in with a man. Partly he is afraid: afraid that Joe's homosexuality will leave him vulnerable and powerless (considering the low regard Roy himself has for openly gay men), and perhaps afraid too that his own homosexuality might somehow be spotlighted by the presence of a gay man in his inner circle. (This latter explanation is less likely, though, since Roy knows he is on the verge of death and realizes that the fact he has died of AIDS will be widely discussed.) As a symbolic father to Joe, his lineage is endangered—just as Prior marks the end of the Walter line, Joe will not be able to father children of his own. "Cut it dead," Roy exclaims, an unconscious allusion to the image of the family thread. But jealousy is a significant explanation for the passion and rage that Roy feels. Harper was never an obstacle between him and Joe, but a man is different, especially since Joe obviously felt no attraction to his wife. After Joe's disclosure, Roy is simultaneously a lover spurned and a father disobeyed, made irrelevant and weak by his son's choice.