Prior’s Blindness: Magical Realism in Kushner’s Angels in America

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Tanner J. Underwood


This paper is primarily concerned with examining Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America through the lens of “magical realism”: the literary synthesis/coexistence of realism with elements of fantasy or the unknown. Because the play is saturated with moments that confuse normative reality with the “supernatural” world of angels and ghosts, I argue that the genre of magical realism can offer rich perspectives on how marginalized ideologies challenge dominant ideologies presented throughout Angels. Angels is set in the 1980s – a time of great redefinition for homosexuals and of AIDS as a disease – and consequently addresses related cultural situations and challenges. I focus on the character of Prior Walter, a homosexual, AIDS-infected “prophet” who becomes a provocative locus for simultaneously “imagined” and “real” spiritual activity in Angels. Through Prior’s progressive spiritual encounters throughout Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, I argue that Kushner uses Prior to model a discursive, metaphorical, and literal movement away from narrow, exclusive perspectives of the unknown (what I call the “marginalized spiritual”) and toward an acceptance of that unknown. Many of the critically-noted binaries in the play can be explained in this light, and although I remain focused on the issues related to Prior (i.e. spirituality and religion), I finally suggest that the complex reception of Angels can be more effectively reconciled through a magical realist approach.

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Underwood, T. J. (2019). Prior’s Blindness: Magical Realism in Kushner’s Angels in America. Humanities Bulletin, 2(2), 109–122. Retrieved from