Study Guide

Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika Bethesda

By Tony Kushner


In Angels in America, we don't only see angels in Heaven and crashing through Prior's ceiling. There's another major angel we see in Perestroika: the statue of the angel Bethesda, which spreads its wings amidst a beautiful fountain in Central Park. When we're first introduced to this statue we're informed that it was built to honor the Naval dead of the American Civil War. In this way, the statue is directly linked to death and the pain of the past. However, you could also see it as representing the cost of a war that painfully pushed the country forward, advancing America from the dark days of slavery.

In the epilogue of the play, we are once again taken to the Bethesda Fountain. Prior, Louis, Belize, and Hannah all gather there to hang out (or maybe just to give us the epilogue in front of a cool symbolic statue). Anyway, in this section we learn the story of the original fountain of Bethesda in Jerusalem. Scripture says that the angel Bethesda descended from the sky in the middle of the market square. Where her foot brushed the ground, a fountain sprang up. Whoever bathed in this fountain would be healed. When the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the fountain went dry. Legend has it, though, that when the millennium comes, it will flow again. Hannah has promised Prior that she'll take him there to bathe in the healing waters. "We will all bathe ourselves clean," Hannah tells us (Epilogue.24).

In a way, the Bethesda Fountain represents the pain of the past and the hope of the future all at the same time. This angel that was created to commemorate the naval dead of the Civil War also represents the hope that one day we all will be healed. Prior probably describes the Bethesda statue the best:

This angel. She's my favorite angel. I like them best when they're statuary. They commemorate death but suggest a world without dying. They are made of the heaviest things on earth, stone and iron, they weigh tons but they're winged, they are engines and instruments of flight. (Epilogue.17)

The statue of Bethesda can be seen as representing the state of humanity – weighed down by our past but always striving for a better future.