Study Guide

Prior Walter in Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika

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Prior Walter

Prior goes through some pretty big changes over the two parts of this play. (Need a refresher on Prior in the first part of the play? Click here.) Most notably, he goes from being a passive victim to a man of action. Louis kind of sums up how Prior acts for most of Millennium Approaches and for a good portion of Perestroika as well, when he says, "I think, maybe [you were] just too much a victim, finally. Passive. Dependent" (4.1.38). Sure, Louis is a jerk for deserting Prior, but he may just have a point. Even Prior's best friend, Belize, tells him to stop feeling sorry for himself. Prior has a lot to complain about – AIDS, a deserter boyfriend, a ceiling-crashing Angel – but eventually, no matter how tough your life is, you just have to learn to deal with it. And this is exactly what Prior does.

Prior's big turning point comes when the angel shows up in his hospital room to ream him out for not doing any prophesying. Earlier she had charged Prior with the task of stopping humans from progressing, migrating, and changing – placing in his hands the sacred Book of Anti-Migration. In the hospital-room showdown, Prior refuses the prophecy. At Hannah's urging, he wrestles the angel, much like Jacob does in the Book of Genesis. When he defeats the angel, a ladder appears, much like Jacob's ladder, and Prior climbs to Heaven. There he tells all the angels what's what and forces them to take back the book. He makes them see that it's impossible for mankind to stop moving forward.

When Prior wakes up from his trip to Heaven, he ends up rejecting Louis' attempt to come back to him. At this point we know that Prior has truly come into his own. He is no longer the passive victim feeling sorry for himself and running from his troubles. Prior has found strength in his isolation. In the end, Prior comes to represent all of humanity. His future will be incredibly tough – AIDS will make his life difficult, to say the least – but he is determined to battle on. Just like the entire human race, Prior trudges on, despite the struggles of being alive.

For much more on Prior Walter, check out "What's Up with the Ending?," "Character Roles," and our thoughts on him in our guide to Millennium Approaches.

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