Angels hav e lon g bee n symbol s o f spiritua l significance . Residin g i n a real m somewhere betwee n th e Deit y and Hi s creations , angels watch ove r humanit y a s unspeakably beautifu l harbinger s o f hop e an d o f death . Kushne r turne d t o Walter Benjamin' s imag e of the Angel of History as the guiding metaphor fo r hi s ambitious, sweeping epic , Angels in America. A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, which i s mad e u p o f tw o lon g plays , Millennium Approaches an d Perestroïka. Benjamin write s of a Paul Klee painting, "Angelus Novus," showing
an angel looking as though he is about to move away from somethin g he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth i s open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain o f events , he see s one singl e catastroph e whic h keep s pilin g wreckage upon wreckag e and hurl s i t in front o f his feet . The ange l would lik e to stay, awaken th e dead , an d mak e whol e wha t ha s bee n smashed . Bu t a stor m i s blowing from Paradise ; it has got caught i n his wings with suc h violence tha t th e angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the futur e to whic h hi s bac k i s turned , whil e th e pil e o f debri s befor e hi m grow s skyward . This storm is what we call progress. (257-58)
The Angels plays, feverish historica l drama s abou t America's immediate an d con - temporary history , examin e man y themes , bu t ar e hel d togethe r b y Benjamin' s conception o f th e ruin s o f histor y a s th e pric e o f progress . Angels depicts , wit h varying degree s o f anger , humor , an d empathy , a poignan t an d epi c tapestr y o f the substantia l societa l an d spiritua l issue s facin g humankind-an d American s in particular-a t th e daw n o f th e ne w millennium . Presentin g a mora l comba t
In Angels, Kushner's apocalyptic harbinger i s an Angel and, in the final scene of Perestroika, th e play's survivor s mee t a t Central Park' s Bethesd a fountain , which feature s a statue o f the Biblica l ange l wh o "troubled th e waters. " This angel, coincidentally, was the subject o f one of Wilder's early one-act plays , The Angel That Troubled the Waters (1928) . Kushner use s this imagery at the end of Perestroika an d throughout bot h Angels plays a s he "troubles th e waters" of American life in order to permit revelation to his characters of a cure to their ills and a possibility of a new beginning. In The Angel That Troubled the Waters, Wilder's ange l ask s th e various cripple d souls , "Withou t you r woun d wher e would your power be?" (149). This notion similarly empowers Kushner's characters, some of whom grow strong through their great suffering .