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Things really go to crap for Joe in Perestroika. At the beginning, things look pretty good. At long last, after a life of inner turmoil, he finally begins his first gay relationship. He even seems to be coming to terms with his Mormon faith. It seems like he's truly in love with Louis, or at least he thinks he is. For the first time in Joe's life, he's beginning to find happiness.
Then Louis (the king of abandonment) leaves Joe. When he learns just how super-conservative Joe really is, he hightails it back to Prior. Now Joe knows what Harper must feel like – what it is to be deserted by someone you love. An accidental parallel? We think not.
Joe then tries to go back to Harper. He seems to want to reverse everything and tells her that they ought go back to Salt Lake City. However, in this progressively minded play the big message is that we can't go back; we must move forward. It seems that Harper has learned this lesson and has decided it's time for her to leave Joe behind. When Harper deserts Joe near the end of the play, he is left totally alone. The last we see of Joe he is in misery, all alone in Brooklyn – in much the same position he put Harper in.
Joe's fate and the nature of his character in general could be interpreted as the play's rejection of conservative ideals. For example Joe tries to convince Louis that the "rhythm of history is conservative" (3.4.26). In the play's epilogue, though, Prior tells us that the opposite is true, basically saying that the rhythm of history is progressive. We're guessing it's no accident that Joe is left out of the epilogue. He is unable to progress and to become a part of the new community that has formed at the end of the play. What do you think? Is Angels too hard on Joe? Or does he deserve what he gets?
For more on Joe, check out "Character Roles" and our thoughts on him in our guide to Millennium Approaches.