Tony Kushner’s play, Angels In America, explores the trials of the journey of human life through the development of his characters throughout the play. When Rabbi Chemelwitz says “Great Voyages is this world do not any more exist. ” (Millennium 16) he speaks only the partial truth. It is true that none of the characters at the funeral can make the same kind of trip Sarah Ironson made, the pilgrimage from her home to a foreign land across the Atlantic. However, the voyage to America Sarah took and the various struggles the characters face have many parallels.
Instead of the physical trials of Sarah’s great voyage, they are faced with equally as difficult emotional problems that cause them to make certain choices in the great voyage of their lives. Every character faces some psychological journey throughout the play that takes them to new places emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The best example of all three of these journeys is Prior’s development through the play. Prior’s great voyage is the most obvious and widely explained of any of the characters in the play.
We first meet Prior at what he knows is a turning point in his life: telling Louis he has AIDS. He says “K. S. baby. Lesion number one. ” (27) telling Louis he is going to die. This is clearly an immensely difficult decision or Prior because he then goes on to say how afraid he is that Louis will leave him. This is the first real step in Prior’s “great voyage. ” Everything else that happens to Prior is a result of this one act. The most immediate and drastic change brought about by this decision is that Louis confirms Prior’s fears and leaves him.
After Louis leaves, Prior is thrown into a deep state of depression. His emotional struggle at this point is a perfect parallel for the initial hardships suffered by immigrants immediately after they leave home. In both cases, their lives are drastically changed by some decision which leads to some form of hardship. For the immigrant, it is the physical hardship of adjusting to life at sea and the emotional hardship of losing their home. For Prior, it is the physical hardship of his own body betraying him due to his AIDS and the emotional shock of needing to live without having Louis as a part of his life.
The point where we truly see Prior’s voyage is in Perestroika when he climbs the ladder to heaven. The voyage to heaven and back is Prior’s physical great voyage in the play. Everything else has lead up to this culmination of his journey. Prior: But still. Still. Bless me anyway. I want more life. I can’t help myself. I do. I’ve lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much worse, but… You see them living anyway. When they’re more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they’re burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes f their children, they live.
(Perestroika 267) When Prior says this, it shows that even though he recognizes that his life is awful, and life in general can be awful, he wants to go on living. While it may seem contradictory, it ends up working out for him in the end when he and Louis make up in the epilogue, or final chapter of Prior’s great voyage. Prior manages to reverse all of the bad about him, except for the AIDS, and even that he is able to beat with his wish for more life. Harper’s great voyage is also another voyage in which the character taking it changes completely.
She starts the play as a hopeless drug addled housewife, unable to even truly take care of herself. This is shown in her introduction to the play. She is portrayed as a semi-mad woman who talks to her hallucinations more than actual people. Harper even realizes this is wrong when she says “Weird stuff happens… like you, for instance. ” (Millennium 23) She realizes something is clearly wrong yet does nothing about it. As the play progresses though, she gains more confidence in herself and eventually confronts Joe about his homosexuality. She comes out and directly asks him, “Are you a homo?
” (43) after her hallucination with Prior. This is a huge step for her because she has always had her suspicions about Joe but has never confronted him about it before. Now however, she begins to change. She gains confidence and winds up leaving Joe. It is at this point when she takes a journey with Mr. Lies to try to get away from her life in New York. Unfortunately, the hallucinations are only a temporary distraction as first, Joe finds his way into them and second, she eventually comes back to her senses and is arrested for burning a tree in Central Park.
Finally, at the end of her great voyage, she gains enough self-confidence and assurance to make a physical voyage all the way out to San Francisco. A third character who goes on a great voyage through the play is Louis. He originally starts out unable to deal with the reality of Prior having AIDS so he leaves him. However, although he left Prior, he feels truly guilty and awful about it so tries to cover it up. He first tries to bury it by not focusing on it. This is shown by his entire speech at Belize.
He doesn’t really want to talk about politics and racism in America, it is his way of coping with the soul-eating guilt that is killing him. He later tries to bury it through sex, “Keep going. Infect me. I don’t care. I don’t care. ”(63) He says this to a random stranger indicating that he feels so guilty, he would rather catch AIDS and die than live with his guilt. He doesn’t stop after this though. He says “I have to find a way to save myself. ” (85) indicating that although Prior is the one with AIDS, he is still only worried about himself.
Finally, he continues his downward spiral with Joe. He says “Let’s stop talking. Or if you have to talk, talk dirty. ” This show that he is really not worried in the slightest about Prior at this point and is still only worried about himself. Eventually though, he start to miss Prior, shown when he tells Joe “I just… need to see him again. ” He has the realization that he has greatly wronged Prior and goes back to try and make amends. However, Prior refuses to take him back and although they are no longer lovers, he and Prior are at least back to friends in the epilogue.
Louis’ great voyage is an emotional roller coaster in which he eventually does the right thing and makes up with Prior. All of these characters go through great voyages over the course of the play. They change emotionally, physically and psychologically due to them. While Rabbi Chemelwitz may have been technically right when he said they could not go on a great voyage because they are already in America, he is speaking the literal truth. However, the play does not truly bear this out as every character undergoes some fundamental change after going through what can only be described as a great voyage.