Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches
How we cite our quotes:
Louis: Like the spiritualists try to use that stuff, are you enlightened, are you centered, channeled, whatever, this reaching out for a spiritual past in a country where no indigenous spirits exist – only the Indians, I mean Native American spirits and we killed them off so now, there are no gods here, no ghosts and spirits in America, there are no angels in America, no spiritual past. (3.2.12)
Louis is saying that America doesn't really have a spiritual center. He seems to imply that American religious movements are really more about politics. Do you think this is true? Is this the point of view of the play as a whole? How does the line "there are no angels in America" jive with the big old angel that comes crashing through Prior's ceiling at the end of play? How does it jive with the title?
Emily: There's really nothing to worry about. I think that shochen bamromim hamtzeh menucho nechono al kanfey haschino. (3.2.105)
When Prior is about to check out of the hospital, his nurse, Emily, starts spewing Hebrew at him – she's chanting about Prior's soul departing the earth. As we discuss in "Versions of Reality," this is kind of crazy because Emily, an Italian American, doesn't speak a word of Hebrew. Is Prior imagining it? This would also be weird. Prior is a straight-up WASP whose family came over on the Mayflower. Could it be that, with the approach of the angel, Prior is somehow connecting to a deeper spiritual past? If so, it's pretty interesting that that spiritual past is a Jewish one, given Prior's Christian cultural background. What statement might the play be making about the place of Judaism in the spiritual framework of the Western world?
Stage Directions: Suddenly there is an astonishing blaze of light, a huge chord sounded by a gigantic choir, and a great book with steel pages mounted atop a molten-red pillar pops up from the stage floor. The book opens; there is a large Aleph inscribed on its pages, which bursts into flames. (3.2.117)
Man, those are some of the best stage directions we've ever read. This happens in the hospital just after Emily, Prior's nurse, starts chanting Hebrew. The moment is strange for all the same reasons. The Aleph inscribed on the book is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and has special spiritual significance, according to followers of Kabbalah, a mystical school of Jewish thought. Once again, why is Prior, super WASP, having visions of all things Hebrew? And what does this say about the place of Judaism in Western spirituality?