Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches
by Tony Kushner
Harper is a mess. A quirky, loveable mess, but a mess all the same. Agoraphobic (afraid of public places) and hooked on valium, Harper spends most of her time hallucinating in her Brooklyn apartment while her husband, Joe, is away from home. Her constant companion throughout the play is Mr. Lies, a hallucinated version of the travel agent who helped her and Joe book their flight from Salt Lake City to New York. (It's interesting and ironic that, although Harper is afraid to leave the apartment, she constantly dreams of travel.)
Besides friendly travel agents, Harper also has paranoid fantasies that men with knives are coming get her. When Joe at long last admits to Harper that he's gay, he says, "I'm the man with the knives" (2.9.62). It seems that both Harper and Joe have been in denial about Joe's homosexuality, and that Harper's fear of the truth has come out in the form of these mysterious and freaky visions.
Earlier in the play Joe reveals to Roy that Harper was most likely abused while growing up. He doesn't go into specifics, but we wonder if her nightmares of evil men have their roots even deeper in Harper's past. Joe would never physically abuse her, but the emotional torture of his repressed homosexuality could be another case of a man causing her pain.
Despite all this, Harper still loves Joe desperately. Having to face the fact that he's not and never will be sexually attracted to her is just too much. To escape, she slips into her imaginary world, and Mr. Lies whisks her away to her own surreal version of Antarctica. In a way she's both confronting her fears and running from them at the same time. She does finally leave the house, but at the same time she's knowingly hiding from the problem in a world of her own delusion. We don't think any less of her, though – after all, she's had a pretty major shock. As she puts it, she just needs a place to "mend" (3.3.26).
Harper's character shows that a society that encourages the repression of homosexuality isn't just harmful to gay people themselves. If Joe had felt comfortable with his sexuality, he never would have married Harper, and she wouldn't have suffered those years of torture. Maybe they would have just been good friends – who knows? Instead, societal pressure forced them into a life of denial.Timeline