One of the things that I think we have to keep in mind as we discuss this play is the evolution of AIDS and our knowledge about the disease. We have to realize that there was not as much known about it during the time that this was written and there was still a huge stigma attached to patients that were diagnosed with it.
Since we were still learning about the disease, there was a serious fear that went with it. People living with AIDS didn’t know when they were going to die, but they knew it was inevitable. Life immediately became much shorter. That put the fear of God into anyone facing the disease. Look at Roy. He was on top of the world at the beginning of the play. He even said told Joe that he wasn’t afraid of death. “What can death bring that I haven’t faced,” he questioned. By the end of the play, he realizes that there’s a lot he hasn’t faced and dies almost alone. He lashed out at everyone, especially Belize, and reluctantly accepted the situation before his death just after Joe leaves. The last thing in Roy’s life that was going according to plan was his manipulation of Joe. Once that was gone, death was the only thing that was left for Roy. He acknowledges that to Belize by saying, “Nobody…With me now. But the dead.” Roy’s the kind of character that will never admit that he’s accepted it, but for a popular figure who has a lot of friends like that, admitting that is the ultimate form of resignation.
That change for Roy was the last thing he experienced. For Joe, however, change was one of the first possibilities he experienced in the play. Roy offered him a job in D.C. He finally felt comfortable admitting that he was gay. Harper leaves him. All of this scared him into developing a bleeding ulcer. Joe said to Harper, “I don’t know. I thought maybe that with enough effort and will I could change myself…but I can’t.” He was frightened to admit that something like his sexual orientation, which he struggled with his whole life, could violate the tenants of his religion.
The fear of death and the fear of change are also the fears that are supposed to be helped by religion. However, in Angels in America, religion makes it worse for some and better for others. For Joe, a person that seemed to be incredibly devout to his religion, it made it much worse because it kept him from being someone who could be what he was meant to be. For Prior, a man who probably couldn’t tell you the difference between the Torah and the Quran, the religious influence saved him from the Angel and in a way, his own imagination and the monsters under his bed.