In the renowned fantasy novel Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, Albus Dumbledore says, “indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” The play, Angels in America, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner, presents several relationships of characters. The relationship of Joe and Harper Pitt in particular plays a vital role in his play. By not making the effort to fix the problems in their relationship, Joe and Harper have finally grown so distant from each other that it is impossible to fix it.
Kushner uses many different writing techniques to present that Joe and Harper have a failing marriage. He uses tone and dialog to show that Harper isn’t going to follow Joe in his advancing career. Next, Kushner references movies that parallel Joe and Harper’s relationship. And lastly, Kushner adds real world examples to show the neglect of Harper’s emotional problems. All of Kushner’s writing techniques add up to clearly explain why the marriage is failing.
Harper’s decision to not go to Washington D.C. with Joe is the first sign that Harper accepts that their marriage has failed. Harper denies Joe’s offer within seconds of him proposing the idea. Her instincts tell her that moving to Washington D.C. will just cover up their unhappy lives together even more. She then states, “We’re happy here,” (Kushner). The rapid response to Joe’s proposition and when she sarcastically states that they are “happy” hints that she is unhappy in the relationship. It is also shown when she directly says, “Pretend-happy,” (Kushner). It therefore implies that they are lying to themselves in order to make their relationship seem better. Harper does not want to move with Joe because she wants out of their relationship. She makes up several excuses to justify them for not moving. She starts out with referring to the Roman Polanski Film, Rosemary’s Baby. The movie’s protagonist, Waifish Rosemary Woodhouse, thinks that her husband has given a cult their unborn baby to be able to succeed in his failing acting career (Bozzola).
In Angels in America, the similar situation is how Roy is giving Joe a promotion in order to get something out of it. The couple in the movie parallels to Harper and Joe’s marriage. Both Waifish and Harper have suspicions about their husbands that eventually become true. Harper on the other hand wants to get away from her situation by not wanting to move with Joe. She then refers to The Exorcist, but Joe quickly says, “The devil, everywhere you turn, huh buddy,” (Kushner). What Harper does not realize is that Joe is the devil and until they separate from each other, she will always be around the devil. Since Joe is the “devil,” it is nearly impossible for their relationship to grow and fix it self because it is “a thing that is very difficult or awkward to do or deal with,” (Google, Inc.). Towards the end of the conversation, Harper mentions that when they first got married Joe had “all these secrets and lies,” (Kushner).
Those lies that the relationship is based upon caused it to be unsuccessful from the start. Because they were not truthful to one another from the beginning of their relationship, it has caused them later on to have problems that are coming out now. If they would have dealt with the problems that they have had since the beginning, then their marriage would not be failing. Harper realizes that her relationship has failed and therefore she declines going with Joe to Washington D.C. It is shown that she realizes her marriage has failed when later that day she says, “Without me. Without me, Joe. Isn’t that what you want to hear?” (Kushner). The emphasis Harper puts on “without me” confirms the fact that she has realized that the marriage has ended and that she wants to move on with her life. She does this so that Joe will get the hint that their marriage has failed and there is not anything they can do about it.
Harper hears on the radio that part of the ozone layer is missing in Antarctica, but what she doesn’t realize is that the missing hole is a metaphor for her relationship with Joe. Kushner adds this into his play to show the audience that their relationship parallels to this atmospheric damage. Harper first mentions the ozone layer while she is alone at home waiting for Joe to come home. Harper states, “When you look at the ozone layer…things are collapsing, lies surfacing, systems of defense giving way…This is why, Joe, this is why I shouldn’t be left alone,” (Kushner). The things that are collapsing in the ozone parallels to Joe and Harper’s relationship. The neglect of the Earth, or the relationship in this matter, has caused problems to form that are nearly irreversible.
With more and more neglect the worse the ozone is going to get therefor without the proper actions taken to fix the situation, it is going to diminish. Their relationship is the same way. Joe has not helped with Harper’s drug addiction, so it has gotten worse and worse. And since Joe has not helped with her problems it has just created another problem that they need to fix in need to improve their relationship. But they did not so their relationship has virtually diminished. It was exponentially declining since the start of the gap in their relationship. Since the ozone layer is depleting, Harper reasons that Joe should not be left alone, but right after she says that, she quickly changes saying that instead of Joe not being alone, she should not be left alone. This implies that Harper is the ozone layer and Joe is the person that keeps on damaging it. Harper does not know this but Kushner tells this to the audience so that they know.
Joe has neglected Harper’s needs and has only thought of himself thus causing emotional “holes” in Harper. These “holes” can only be filled in with a substitute, in this case Valium. The drugs are the artificial necessities that fulfil her needs in her relationship. Just as Mother Nature tends to even things out, Harper needs to even out her emotions that are not present with Joe. Joe has caused a major portion of the holes that are found in their relationship. These holes are similar to the holes in the ozone layer that are caused by the neglect from mankind. The holes are irreversible and have a profound impact on Harper and Joe’s marriage. It is demonstrated when Joe shuts down Harper’s emotional problems that he had caused. Joe’s neglect for Harper’s emotional holes has caused them problems that cannot be fixed.
Harper has always been afraid of the “man with the knives” (Kushner). At first Joe just thought that Harper was hallucinating and it was just a figment of her imagination. He even thought that Harper’s Valium addiction might have been the reason for her hallucinations. But after talking with her, he finally realizes that it has been him all along that had been the “man with the knives.” He has been slowly killing his relationship with Harper by his secrets which are represented by the knives. Harper was in bed when “someone was in there… under the covers with a knife,” (Kushner). Harper and Joe’s situation represents that someone in their relationship is hiding a secret about themselves.
This secret has to deal with the fact that someone is lying about their sexual needs. It turns out to be that Joe is hiding the fact that he is a homosexual to Harper. If in the beginning Joe would have told Harper that he was gay and that he was trying to work on it, their relationship would be more successful, but since he did not do this, his knives had been tearing away at their marriage. Each time he neglected to work on her problems and just let them slide by, his knife got sharper and sharper. It made it easier for them to grow apart and not know each other. Joe’s inability to help out with Harper’s problems and being secretive towards her had caused them to grow apart and ruin their marriage without being able to fix it.
Harper and Joe’s relationship had diminished over the years that they were married starting from day one. They put their heads down to their problems and just let them slide. Their relationship could only slip so far until it is nearly gone and that had happened. Kushner presented their failing marriage through many ways. He used Harper’s decision to show that Harper does not want to advance with Joe in his career. Kushner then presents the movies The Exorcist and Rosemary Babies to parallel the relationship of Joe and Harper.
The ozone layer is added into the play as a metaphor of their declining relationship to let the audience know that they are failing in their marriage. And lastly Kushner uses the “man with the knives” as a way to say that Joe is “killing” their marriage from neglect towards Harper’s problems. At first Harper and Joe had a great marriage, but after a while secrets and lies became the normal for them. These lies and secrets just worsened their marriage until it finally failed.
Bozzola, Rovi Lucia. Rosemary’s Baby – Rotten Tomatoes. n.d. 22 11 2012. Google, Inc. define: Devil – Google Search. n.d. 22 11 2012. Kushner, Tony. Angels in America, A Fantasia on National Themes. New York City: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 1995. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix . New York City: Scholastic, 2003.
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