Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches Act 1, Scene 8 Summary
It's that night, another split scene.
On one side of the stage, we see Harper and Joe at home; on the other side, Prior and Louis are in bed.
Harper asks Joe what he's been doing.
He says he was just walking and thinking.
She tells him that she burned his dinner, cooked it until it was totally black, and she did it on purpose.
Her husband asks her how many pills she's taken.
Lots and lots, Harper says, and then demands to know where he's been and what's going on.
Joe thinks she asking about the job prospect in Washington.
His wife accuses him of changing the subject.
He says if she has something to ask him, she should just ask it.
Harper wants him to just tell her.
Joe says he's going to bed.
She tells him that lately she's been afraid of him. There's something mean about him, something unfamiliar.
Harper goes on to say that he's not the only one who hates sex. She admits, "I dream that you batter away at me till all my joints come apart, like wax, and I fall into pieces. It's like a punishment" (1.8.36).
He tells her he doesn't ever want to have sex with her because she's always red-faced and sweaty from taking too many pills.
Fed up, Harper directly asks Joe if he's gay.
Joe doesn't say anything.
Harper threatens to put his dinner back into the oven and burn it until everyone in the building dies of smoke inhalation.
After some hesitation, he says, "No. I'm not. I don't see what difference it makes" (1.8.45).
Now we shoot over to the other side of the stage for more domestic drama. Louis and Prior are chilling in bed.
Louis is talking about how Jews don't have a specific idea about the afterlife. He says he sees it as a "perpetual rainy Thursday afternoon in March. Dead leaves" (1.8.46).
"Eeeugh. Very Greco-Roman," says Prior (1.8.47).
Louis goes off on a long intellectual riff about the nature of justice.
He says the act of weighing all the factors that go into a judgment is more important than the verdict reached in the end. Basically, he criticizes the idea that we receive a "stamp of salvation or damnation" at the end of our lives (1.8.54). Louis thinks that sort of thinking ignores all the complexity of life.
Prior comments that Louis' ideas are "reassuringly incomprehensible and useless" (1.8.55). He adds, "We who are about to die thank you" (1.8.55).
Louis denies that Prior is going to die.
Prior lists the terrible symptoms he's dealing with.
Louis says Prior hasn't told him any of this stuff.
Prior says it's easier not to, because it just freaks Louis out.
Louis claims he's handling it, but then he starts to cry.
"Tell me some more about justice," Prior asks him (1.8.68).
Louis says, "[Justice] is an immensity, a confusing vastness. Justice is God" (1.8.71).
Louis asks Prior if he loves him. Prior says he does.
"What if I walked out on this? Would you hate me forever?" asks Louis.
Prior kisses him on the forehead and says, "Yes" (1.8.77).
Now the people on the other side of the stage start talking again.
Joe suggests that he and Harper pray to God for help.
She says God won't speak to her; that's why she makes up imaginary people.
He says you have to keep asking God if you want an answer.
Harper replies, "I forgot the question. Oh yeah. God, is my husband a... " (1.8.81).
Joe angrily warns her to stop.
He talks about how he's worked and prayed his whole life, trying to defeat the thing he knows he is inside.
Harper argues that that's just the Utah Mormon in him talking. She says she hates it.
Joe claims that he's a good man, that he's always behaved in a moral way – that's all that matters. He says he won't let her destroy that.
Harper tells him that she's going to have a baby.
Joes calls her a liar.
She describes the child: "A baby who does not dream but who hallucinates, who stares up at us with big mirror eyes and who does not know who we are" (1.8.86).
(Whoa, that is one creepy baby.)
Joe asks if she's really pregnant.
Harper says, "No. Yes. No. Yes. Get away from me. Now we both have a secret" (1.8.88).
Back on the other side of the stage, Prior decides it's a good time to tell a story about one of his ancestors who was a ship captain. This guy made money bringing whale oil over to England and sailing back to America with boatloads of Irish immigrants.
One day, though, the ship ended up sinking off the coast of Nova Scotia. Prior's ancestor went down with the ship.
The crew took seventy women and children away in a longboat. It was too many people for the little boat, so they started chucking people overboard. By the time they got to shore, there were only nine people left onboard.
Prior says he's thinks about this story a lot now. He seems to identify with those women and children, sitting in the cold, knowing that at any moment they could be thrown into the dark water.
Prior tells Louis, "I like your cosmology, baby. While time is running out I find myself drawn to anything that's suspended, that lacks an ending" (1.8.91).
(In case you forgot, Prior is referring to all the stuff about justice that Louis was talking about before.)
Prior comments that Louis' idea "lets you off scot-free" with "no guilt or responsibility" (1.8.93).