Restructuring society - The concept of hybridity among different ethnic groups in Tony Kushner’s 'Angels in America'


Term Paper, 2005

30 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background Information
2.1. Ethnicity vs. Race
2.2. Hybridity

3. Ethnic Groups in Angels in America
3.1. WASPs in Angels in America
3.2. Afro-Americans in Angels in America
3.3. The Relationship between Prior and Belize

4. A Successful Collaboration

5. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is a very complex drama dealing with many different themes. This seminar paper analyses the theme of social reconstruction. As I will expound, hybridity is the form of society aimed at by the characters of this play who strive for social change. In order to demonstrate the concept of a hybrid society, I analyse the characters who represent this idea with regard to their ethnic group membership and their position in society. On this basis, their views and interests become more evident and easier to understand. After that I analyse and interpret their role in the play in order to point out the consequences for the concept of social reconstruction towards a hybrid society.

First, the terms ethnicity and hybridity, which are essential for the analysis, are explained briefly. The next part of this paper presents two characters from different ethnic groups (Prior and Belize) striving for social change. On the basis of their position in society and their role in this play I then expound the concept of hybridity in the drama before analysing the relationship between Prior and Belize with regard to this idea. In chapter 4, other indications demonstrating if and how a social reconstruction is achieved are pointed out. The result of this analysis is summarized in the conclusion.

The chapter providing background information is mainly based on articles in reference books. Chapter 3 and 4 are built up on the analysis of Angels in America itself, whereas essays dealing with ethnicity and the concept of social reconstruction in this play serve as support for my work.

2. Background Information

The focus of this seminar paper lies on ethnic groups and their importance for the process towards a hybrid society. Therefore, I will shortly define the terms ethnicity and hybridity.

2.1. Ethnicity vs. Race

In this paper, the terms ethnicity and ethnic group are used for referring to groups like WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and Afro-Americans.[1] Because ethnicity has a variety of meanings I briefly define the term for this seminar paper. Furthermore, I differentiate ethnicity from the term race, the usage of which might seem appropriate as well in this context. According to Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin ethnicity refers to “human variation in terms of culture, tradition, language, social patterns and ancestry”[2]. It was coined in contradistinction to race, which assumes that human beings are divided into fixed, genetically biological types. Ethnicity states that similar racial attributes may serve as characteristics for an ethnic group as well, but furthermore members of this group may also share such features as religion, language, occupation or politics. Ethnicity is more a cultural than just a genetic criterion, although it does also include race. It is important to distinguish ethnic groups from social classes because membership of an ethnic group does normally not depend on membership of a socio-economic class. Ethnic groups are relative to time and place and fluid in composition. They are dynamic and subject to change. Isajiw’s definition of ethnicity combines all these elements:

Thus, we can define ethnicity as a group or category of persons who have common ancestral origin and the same cultural traits, who have a sense of peoplehood and Gemeinschaft type of relations, who […] have either minority or majority status within a large society.[3]

Unlike the term race, which is more superficial and coarse, this definition allows me to classify the characters of Angels in America into different ethnic groups, to analyse how they represent these groups and what their attitude towards the concept of a hybrid society is. Nevertheless, one must be aware that the dividing line between ethnic groups is blurred and that they cannot always be separated clearly.

2.2. Hybridity

As analysing the concept of hybridity in Angels in America, I now explain this term and differentiate it from multiculturalism and the idea of the American society as a melting-pot. Hybridity is a much disputed term in post-colonial theory and refers to “the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. As used in horticulture, it refers to the cross-breeding of two species”[4]. In the nineteenth-century, it had a negative connotation and applied to results of racial mixing that was frowned upon.[5] During the development of post-colonial theory in the last decades, the meaning of this term has been transformed. It now implies that “the crossing of racial and cultural boundaries is a normative feature of societal development.”[6] For lack of space, the dispute about this much discussed term and its many different interpretations is omitted and only its basic meanings are expounded.

In contrast to multiculturalism, which refers to the coexistence of different cultural identities in a society and implies the idea that ethnic groups maintain their own culture within this society, hybridity carries the implication that their mingling, rather than the division into ethnic groups, is the norm.[7] Not exoticism of cultural diversity as represented by multiculturalism, but ethnic mixing is the basis of this concept.

However, hybridity is not the same as the idea of a melting-pot. Whereas the latter underlines assimilation of different ethnic groups and the “seamless process of integration into a singular American culture”[8], hybridity does not go that far. On the contrary, it implies a confluence of heterogeneous cultures resulting in internal differences and states that these differences are essential to the formation of identity.[9] Homi K. Bhabha adds to the definition of hybridity:

Hybridity refers to the process of the emergence of a culture, in which its elements are being continually transformed or translated through irrepressible encounters. Hybridity offers the potential to undermine existing forms of cultural authority and representation.[10]

Especially the last sentence is important for the analysis of hybridity in Angels in America as it serves the idea of social reconstruction. All in all, hybridity is a concept settled between multiculturalism and the concept of a melting-pot. As a process, it aims at overcoming the coexistence of different ethnic groups by mixing. It does not imply assimilation, but internal differences.

3. Ethnic Groups in Angels in America

In the following chapter the concept of social change represented by different ethnic groups in Kushner’s Angels in America will be analysed. Ethnicity in this play is represented by several characters: Belize and Mr. Lies are Afro-Americans, Roy Cohn and Louis represent Jewishness, Prior WASPiness and even the Mormons Joe and Hannah can be regarded as an ethnic group.[11] Because of their skin colour WASPs and Afro-Americans are the most obvious representatives of the ethnic groups listed above. Their positions in the social hierarchy of the US differ considerably. WASPs are regarded to be members of the most powerful social group[12], whereas Afro-Americans have a relatively low rank in the social hierarchy.[13] The great social gap between these two groups can be demonstrated by their average income. In 1980, the average income of an US American household was 31,095 $. With 32,805 $ on average whites had the highest income of all ethnic groups. In contrast, Afro-Americans households only had 18,899 $ on average.

In the play these two groups are the most important ones when it comes to the reconstruction of society. The analysis therefore focuses on WASPs and Afro-Americans in Angels in America.

The representative of the former is Prior Walter, who according to Kushner is the only WASP in the play.[14] However, Prior can not be regarded as a representative of WASP culture and its interests. His views are in contrast to the WASPs’, who want to preserve the status quo and thus their superior position in American society. These interests are represented by the Angel, who is included into the analysis.

Afro-Americans are represented by Belize and Mr. Lies.[15] Because of Belize’s connection to many characters in this play, especially his relation to Prior, and his remarks about his concept of a hybrid society, the second part of this chapter focuses on him. Mr. Lies will be left out as he does not play a major role for the idea of social change and progress.

The last part of this chapter describes the relation between Prior and Belize and demonstrate how their interaction paves the way for the social change, which starts off at the end of the play and materializes in the prototype of the new society gathering round Bethesda Fountain in the Epilogue of Perestroika.

3.1. WASPs in Angels in America

WASP culture enters the play through the character of Prior Walter. The first important thing about him is the name Prior itself. Kushner explains that he came across it when he “had been looking for one of those WASP names that nobody gets called anymore.”[16] Prior is not only a very rare WASP name, but also an adjective relating to someone or something before. The symbolic meaning of this name is shown in a conversation between Louis and Emily:

Emily: Weird name. Prior Walter. Like, “The Walter before this one.”

Louis: Lots of Walters before this one. Prior is an old old

family name in an old old family. The Walters go back

to the Mayflower and beyond. Back to the Norman

Conquest. He says there’s a Prior Walter stitched into

the Bayeux tapestry.[17]

Both aspects, Prior as a very rare and old WASP name and the meaning of the adjective prior, portray him as WASP with a long lineage. This is supported by Louis’ statements. However, this long genealogy of the Walters is is about to break[18] as Prior is infected with AIDS and has neither children nor brothers and sisters.[19]

[...]


[1] The information for this chapter has been taken from “ethnicity,“Post-colonial studies, Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (London: Routledge, 2003) and “ethnicity,” A Dictionary of Sociology, Eds. John Scott, and Gordon Marshall, 2005, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster, 20 February 2006, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t88.e752>.

[2]“ethnicity,” Post-colonial studies, 2003 ed.

[3] Wsevolod W. Isajiw, “Definitions of Ethnicity,” Ethnicity 1 (1974): 118.

[4]“hybridity,“Post-colonial studies, Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (London: Routledge, 2003).

[5]“hybridity,” A Dictionary of Sociology, Eds. John Scott, and Gordon Marshall, 2005, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster, 20 February 2006, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t88.e1050>.

[6] ”hybridity,“A Dictionary of Sociology, 2005.

[7] ”multiculturalism,” Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Ed. Craig Calhoun, 2002, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster, 21 February 2006, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t104.e1123>.

[8]“melting pot,” Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Ed. Craig Calhoun, 2002, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster, 21 February 2006, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t104.e1061>.

[9] Monika Fludernik, “What is Hybridity? (And why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?),” Hybridity and Postcolonialism. Twentieth-Century Indian Literature, ed. Monika Fludernik (Tübingen: Stauffenburg-Verlag, 1998) 13.

[10] ”hybridity,“A Dictionary of Sociology, 2005.

[11] Framji Minwalla, “When Girls Collide: Considering Race in Angels in America,” Approaching

the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America, Eds. Deborah R. Geis, and Steven F. Kruger

(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997) 104.

[12] ”Wasp n,” The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eds. Catherine Soanes, and Angus Stevenson, 2004, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster, 22 February 2006, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t23.e63721>.

[13] Following information has been taken from Axel Murswieck, “Gesellschaft,” Länderbericht USA. Geschichte·Politik·Geographie·Wirtschaft·Gesellschaft·Kultur, Schriftenreihe Band 357, Eds. Willi Paul Adams, and Peter Lösche (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1998) 625 – 640.

[14] Allen J. Frantzen, “Prior to the Normans: The Anglo-Saxons in Angels in America,” Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America, Eds. Deborah R. Geis, and Steven F. Kruger (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997) 139.

[15] Minwalla 105.

[16] David Savran, “The Theatre of the Fabulous: An interview with Tony Kushner,“Essays on Kushner’s Angels, Ed. Per Brask (Winnipeg: Blizzard Publishing Inc, 1995) 145.

[17] Tony Kushner, Angels in America. A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Part Two: Millennium Approaches (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1993) 51.

[18] David Savran, “Ambivalence, Utopia, and a Queer Sort of Materialism: How Angels in America Reconstructs the Nation,” Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America, Eds. Deborah R. Geis, and Steven F. Kruger (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997) 18.

[19] Kushner, Millennium Approaches 88.

Excerpt out of 30 pages

Details

Title
Restructuring society - The concept of hybridity among different ethnic groups in Tony Kushner’s 'Angels in America'
College
University of Münster
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2005
Pages
30
Catalog Number
V75462
ISBN (eBook)
9783638812566
ISBN (Book)
9783638814027
File size
520 KB
Language
English
Tags
Restructuring, Tony, Kushner’s, Angels, America
Quote paper
Tim Wamer (Author), 2005, Restructuring society - The concept of hybridity among different ethnic groups in Tony Kushner’s 'Angels in America', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/75462

Comments

  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Restructuring society - The concept of hybridity among different ethnic groups in Tony Kushner’s 'Angels in America'



Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free