Study Guide

Roy Cohn in Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika

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Roy Cohn

Out of all the characters in Angels in America, Roy changes the least. Well, that is unless you count going from being alive to being dead. Even on his deathbed, Roy stays the same malicious, selfish man he was in the first part of Angels in America. This is mostly shown through his bad treatment of his nurse Belize and his refusal to give up any of his massive stash of AZT, which he knows he won't live long enough to use. He eventually allows Belize to take a little bit when he provokes Belize into making an anti-Semitic remark by calling Belize every racist and homophobic slur he can think of. It's almost like Roy rewards Belize for sinking down to his level. Roy and the brand of extreme leftist-hating conservatism he represents are depicted as evil and destructive forces in the world.

Just before he dies, Roy almost makes us think he's had a change of heart. After the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg gleefully informs him that he's been disbarred, Roy starts acting like she's his mother and begs her to sing him a song. Feeling bad for him, she sings him a Jewish lullaby. He then goes still. When Ethel creeps up to see if he's dead, he pops back up, laughing at her:

"I fooled you, Ethel, I knew who you were all along, I can't believe you fell for that ma stuff, I just wanted to see if I could finally, finally make Ethel Rosenberg sing! WIN!" (4.9.29)

This moment shows that Roy is still the same old Roy. To the end, he refuses to change, to show compassion to others, or to apologize for any of the cruel things he's done, including illegally influencing a judge to have Ethel Rosenberg executed.

Just like the other characters, Roy's character arc reflects his place in the political spectrum of the play. Roy is on the far right, the playwright's image of a man as conservative as anyone on earth can possibly be. Since Kushner views conservatives as strongly anti-progress, it makes sense that he doesn't change at all over the course of the play. Liberal Prior, on the other hand, goes though a major change, from being dependent to independent, from being afraid of the future to being hopeful. It's probably no accident that in Prior's final moments in the play he tells us that we must all progress, while in Roy's last moments on this earth he says, "Hold" (4.9.29).

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