Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches
by Tony Kushner
Joe and the Closet
Joe is a straight-laced Mormon from Salt Lake City adrift in big city of New York. He goes through a serious change over the course Millennium Approaches. Raised to think that homosexuality is a sin, he takes a giant step away from the morality he grew up with when he begins a sexual relationship with Louis at the end of the play.
All this is incredibly hard for Joe. He's lived his life trying his best to fight his feelings – a fight he's always been terrified that he'll lose. At one point Joe describes a picture book of Bible stories that he used to read when he was kid that seems to represent his inner struggle. The picture of Jacob wrestling an angel has always stuck with Joe. He describes it to his wife, Harper:
Jacob is young and very strong. The angel is... a beautiful man, with golden hair and wings, of course. [...] It's me. In that struggle. Fierce, and unfair. [...] Losing means your soul thrown down in the dust, your heart torn out from God's. But you can't not lose. (2.2.11)
By the end of Millennium Approaches, Joe chooses to give up the wrestling match. Though he thinks he'll go to hell for it, he gives in to the urges he's fought for his entire life. Joe's character represents the many people in the gay community who have been taught to be ashamed of who they are. His struggle to come out epitomizes the struggle of many gay Americans.
While the coming-out process has been excruciating for Joe, it's definitely no picnic for his wife Harper either. Check out Harper's "Character Analysis" for more.
Joe Hearts Reagan
While Joe represents the many people who struggle to come out of the closet, he's also one of the voices of conservatism in the play. Besides his struggle with his sexuality, his other main dilemma is whether or not to take a job in the Justice Department in Washington, DC. When he first hears about it, he is incredibly excited because the job will give him a chance to be a player in the conservative Reagan revolution. He proclaims:
America has re-discovered itself. Its sacred position among nations. And people aren't ashamed of that like they used to be. [...] The truth restored. Law restored. That's what President Reagan's done, Harper. He says "Truth exists and can be spoken proudly." [...] I need something big to lift me up. I mean, six years ago the world seemed in decline, horrible, hopeless, full of unsolvable problems and crime and confusion and hunger and... (1.5.63)
Joe's agoraphobic wife, Harper, refuses go with him to Washington, though. Tension over this and, of course, his coming out causes their marriage to disintegrate by the end of the second act.
For more on Joe, check out "Character Roles."Timeline