Friday, May 9, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Premillenial or Postmillenial?

7)  The first part of Angels in America is titled "Millennium Approaches" Discuss what that the title suggests about the first part.
Your response should take into account the plight of at least two characters. 

Looking only at the first part of the play and ignoring all that happens in part two allows a clear vision as to why this particular title is appropriate for this particular work.  

As the play develops, we discover that many individuals are in a state of crisis. This is happening at a time when all of America was in a state of crisis. Ronald Reagan's Conservative Revolution is threatening to undo everything that American politics has accomplished since the days of FDR.  One of the catchphrases of the 1960's was, "Times, They Are A-Changin!"

This phrase was certainly appropriate in an era of civil rights, but it is also appropriate for both the individual characters of the era of the play and to the nation at that time.

At the beginning of the play we can assume a certain level of stability. Yes, individuals are ill, but they aren't entirely aware of it or believe it is under control. At the same time conserveratives are attempting to change America from a moderately liberal nation into an extremely conservative one. Gone are the days of moderate conservatives like Pres. Eisenhower.

Everything quickly turns into a crisis.  Prior discovers that he has AIDS, a strange and terrifying disease for which there is no effective treatment or cure. Harper's delusional fantasies grow deeper and deeper, preventing her husband from taking on an important new position in Washington.  Cohen realizes that he may be stripped of his position as a lawyer, the core accomplishment of his life.  Joe realizes that his hidden homosexuality may be revealed. And Louis begins to fear that he will not have the strength to stand by his beloved partner.

All of this is taking place in the context of two things. First, the millennium is in sight. The year 2000 is approaching.  Although as a practical matter this is just the changing of one more year into the next year, it has profound significance for the human psyche.  We cannot help but feel something wonderful when we enter a new century.

We may be excited about it or fearful of it, but the idea of being at the beginning of something new and powerful, a new age for the world cannot be denied.

Second, there's all the religious implication. Since the play is so deeply focused on religious imagery, it is impossible to imagine that the author wasn't full aware fully aware of all the religious implications of the term, millennium.

There're two basic threads to millenarianism. One is pre-millennial.  The other is post millennial. These refer to the thousand years of peace. Premillennialists think this thousand years of peace must come before Christ returns to judge the world. Postmillennialists think that the thousand years will come after Christ returns, judges the world, and then rules for 1000 years of peace.

The key, as applied to this play, comes in the judgment.  As these crises develop and begin to drastically alter the lives of the protagonists, it is clear that judgment is going to come to all of them, and to the nation itself.

Obviously, there is not going to be a great deal of peace either before or after the judgment!  But it is also obvious that judgment is coming, and it's coming fast.  Each of the characters is profoundly aware of this in his own life. 

Cohen knows that he may soon be disbarred for his crimes and offenses. He is doing everything he can to avoid judgment and to avoid punishment.

Harper, in her periods of rationality, realizes that her descent into madness is accelerating and becoming destructive to herself and those around her.

Louis fears his own inadequacies will cause him to abandon the man he loves, even while he desperately wishes to be strong enough to stay and be loyal.

Prior fears that he will be punished for something that should not be a punishable act. As with any individual who suddenly finds himself desperately ill, his sickness has made him question the very idea of justice and fairness.

Other characters face similar worries.

The millennium is coming. It is coming on the calendar. It is coming to the nation, which must decide if it will continue to be a nation that cares about its citizens or cares only about the wealthy.  It is coming to each and every one of the characters in the play.

But this millennialism isn't about 1000 years of peace. It is about judgment.

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