a melting pot of incoherent acceptance through sin by Christine Oh

"Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."

- J.K. Rowling

Here lies community, running in a field in freedom and joy. Photo by Jed Villejo.


In Angels in America, how does joe and harper's mormon faith present a melting pot ideology in their decisions pertaining to joe's homosexuality and harper's addiction, humanizing them as the individuals that they are?

Because Angels in America incorporates the complex interaction between identity and religion, I thought it would be interesting to see how the melting pot label enhances the glorifications of humanity as inherently beautiful. Joe and Harper's participation in Mormonism, shown especially in the beginning of the play when Joe yelled at Roy for speaking the Lord's name in vain, is interesting since Joe is a homosexual and Harper is an addict. The struggles that they face in fighting temptation and sin pertaining to their religion provokes an emotional response from the audience: are they "really" Mormon, or just two hypocrites? How does Joe's homosexuality and Harper's addiction play a drastic role in determining their salvation? And how the society perceive this - do they accept it? Reject it? I plan on first depicting what stigmas are behind Mormonism/religion as a whole, and write about how these initial assumptions about Mormonism can dehumanize individuals in a melting pot of America.

Later on, I hope to argue how people can still be humanized despite the presence of struggling religious beliefs and societal norms. Nobody, including those that practice religion, will ever be "perfectly human." In fact, the flaws of a generalized melting pot ideology like the promotion of racism, ignorance, and destruction of the more hidden cultures can be compared to humanity; we are all flawed, yet those flaws challenge us to be held accountable with our views and cultures. This argument can enhance my main focus by honing in on how humanity can be quite inclusive and empathetic, including in a predominantly negatively perceived ideology like the melting pot, no matter what a person participates in. The melting pot can be shown to not only incorporate differing backgrounds and people from a variety of origins and stories, but also a big celebration of people's differences and identities all through mistakes, decisions, and sins . because it initiates and invokes pensive thoughts. Despite the immediate judgments that are invoked with Mormonism and religion as a whole, I want to show how trying to understand people can increase humanization and therefore increase holistic empathy. I want to emphasize the prominence of joy in religion and identity and how you do not have to sacrifice one or the other in order to fully capture its true essence. It would be intriguing to connect religion to our perception of society, specifically how identities are accepted even in communities that might not be accepting in the first place (shown through Hannah's perspective of helping Prior in the end at the Mormon Visitor's Center). Joe and Harper exemplify the progression of society in a regression of humanization.


In American history, there came a prevalent point in time when groups were extensively challenged in joining a new community. Whether it was a place of worship or place of education, multitudes and multitudes of people were never fully accepted for what they call as part of their identities, including the "melting pot" of America. Specifically, foreign immigrants that traveled to begin their new lives in the United States were often categorized and neglected in their home countries for their verbal admittances about human prosperity. And so America, consistently viewed as a "melting pot," a place where "immigrants have the right to come to the United States and retain their culture," but also a place where "marginalized groups suffer while white people prosper," enhances our complex perception of humanity: our varying backgrounds and disparities of equality rooted from peoples' unique stories are catalysts for complexity. In return, these contrasting depictions of America in a melting pot allows us to think and rationalize what we believe is true. By constantly rethinking and reforming our opinion on the melting pot ideology, this increasingly celebrates human dignity beyond past mistakes, decisions, and sins because we are able to consider all backgrounds, all cultures, all factors, all countries as all people. People are people, no matter what.

Four Hispanic immigrants sit on old couches and smile in the middle of a field. Photo by Matthew Rader.

Near the beginning of Angels in America, Roy is busy. Joe is idle. The office is busy. Joe is idle. The phone is busy. Ring ring. Joe is idle. Roy is busy. "Hello?" Roy answers, already scrambling to pick up the next line. In the office, the noise overwhelms every potential source of peace. A plate of different types of bread sits in front of Joe, and he grabs one to be polite and patient after Roy instructed him to do so. A short while after, he sneakily puts the pieces of bread back after realizing that Roy was indeed going to be on the phone with not just one person, but with multitudes of different people for a long, long time. In his clean and attractive suit, Joe continues to wait in his seat. "Aw, man!" Roy complains as he changes the phone line again. "Yeah, yeah," Roy speaks as he changes the phone line again. Ring ring. "Oh, Jesus Christ!" Roy exclaims. Joe, initially submissive and respectful to Roy and his time, is immediately startled by his verbal statement. He screams, "Roy! Do not say the Lord's name in vain!" There is a quick pause; a moment of silence, yet the phone keeps ringing and ringing and ringing. Roy abruptly concurs with Joe and moves on.

An older house in a rural area sits near mountainous regions of the Mormon people. Photo by Jaron Nix.

"Roy! Do not say the Lord's name in vain!"

- Joe in Angels in America

Joe, a Republican lawyer living in the city, plays a pivotal role in Angels in America. His conservative nature drastically alters his reputation, especially in the romantic sense as he becomes more involved with Louis, a politically driven gay man. As an effect, his love affair with Louis destructs his marriage with Harper, but even more severely, Harper and Joe’s Mormon faith. Joe battles with the challenges of homosexuality and admitting his sexual desires to his devoutly religious mother, Hannah who moved to New York City from Utah after hearing the news that her son is indeed a homosexual. The disparities between truth that the play depicts is even more central around Harper’s character as the valium addict that she is, which again, similar to Joe, completely contradicts the purity and chastity that the Mormon faith is usually glorified with. As Joe and Harper struggle through the discoveries of their marriage and holistic truth, Joe struggles even more in placing his identity with focused intention. Especially in the workplace with Roy, his career boss, Joe ensures to hide his sexual differences with utter shame and embarrassment. However, throughout the play, Joe walks through his personal story with increasing confidence and acceptance of himself, despite Roy’s intimidating superiority and disbelief of his sexuality.

A Mormon temple is pictured at dusk, illuminated in the darkness beside a fountain. Photo by Michael Hart.

Later on, Joe promptly transforms into more or less of a “religious” person that cares more about discovering his sexuality rather than his faith. As he becomes more sexually active and less authentically faithful to his wife, Harper, the idea of merging seemingly contrasting factors together becomes more complex. In the melting pot ideology, “immigrants come to America, bringing with them their rich cultural history that they melt into the ever-evolving homogenous broth” (Lahlou). This “rich cultural history” provides a diversity of backgrounds, including sexuality and religion, what Joe is obliged to balance in Angels in America. The “homogenous” broth is confronted by Joe as he realizes that he is “different,” and not the “man” he, Harper, and his mother initially thought that he was. Angels in America reveals a melting pot because of the differences of each character. A homosexual, valium addict, professional lawyer, passionate Jew, black ex-drag queen, and a Mormon mother profoundly adds diversifying perspectives of the events throughout the play. America, especially in the cities, are depicted as places where you are able to be yourself and follow your passions. While Angels in America doesn't necessarily center around this melting pot ideology, it is clear through the intentional choice of characters and personalities in the play that polar differences can be still be meshed into one community.

A Bible and Cross is pictured, resembling the prominent symbols in the Mormon religion. Photos by Aaron Burden.

Hannah, Joe's mother, is clearly juxtaposed with Roy, Joe's boss. While the former eventually accepts Joe and his homosexuality, the latter struggles to do the same. These differences in opinion, choice, and view grant us the opportunity to see how understanding both sides can lead to a more holistic depiction of Joe. An increase in understanding invites humanization.

There is a constant, authentic, and deep love for each other if we recognize why sexuality and religion do not present ignorant depictions of human dignity. Humanity is worth the time to appreciate and be thankful for because of our imperfections; no matter how much Joe initially looked down upon himself after confessing his sexuality, he still found through his confusions and lack of guidance something that was worth pursuing. And on top of that, Hannah’s desire and commitment to fully be there for Joe amidst the discomfort of balancing her Mormon faith and homosexuality ended up her valuing humanity in the end, displayed even further through her free choices to help Harper in her addiction. She remained ever so persistent in getting Harper to the Mormon Visitor’s Center, which definitely led her to the woman that she ended as in the play: a hopeful, mature, and responsible young woman ready to embark San Francisco with a fervent and joyful spirit.

San Francisco is depicted around sunset period, twinkling with city lights and exciting opportunities. Photo by Casey Horner.

"We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don't, but I have always learned more from failure than success."

- Henry Rollins

In direct opposition to Samuel Harrington, some may state that the melting pot ideology is detrimental because it promotes racism, elimination of native culture, and dehumanization. Although I do agree that the melting pot was not holistically supportive of cultural differences because of a lack of understanding, acceptance, and empathy, along with the promotion of racism and ignorance, I also believe that Joe and Harper's examples in Angels in America provide hope. They were not perfect Mormons, nor perfect people, and so in their efforts to balance religion with identity in their differences, the melting pot of their struggles together led to their resolutions. One lesson of Angels in America is that identity does not need to be discarded for communities to form—the melting pot does not necessarily need to melt. Despite Prior's misgivings, for instance, Hannah accepts him as a gay man even though she is a Mormon. In the epilogue, the characters are not required to paper over their differences. Quite the contrary: those differences serve as a kind of glue that welds them together, similar to how sin can unify faith in humanity.


Sin is usually perceived with a sense of shame, unworthiness, and neglect. However, sin can often make us more appreciative of who we are because of increasing self-awareness. We are more able to be ourselves when we are most vulnerable, and that is usually when sin is perceived in religious matters. Joe, in his temptation to become sexually active with Louis directly contradicts his loyalty to Harper in their Mormon marriage, yet he understands himself better than before. Not only that, but Harper does too as she initiates her journey to recovery from her addiction, ending up starting a new, productive life in San Francisco. Sin does not necessarily augment long-term troubling results; in fact, it is an opportunity for growth in who we are and how we can accept ourselves as the individuals we are today. Joe and Harper's imperfections do not sum up nor label their faith with understanding. In fact, their sins admit that they are human.

"Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they're alive and human."

- Albert Ellis

Prior to any deep understanding and knowledge, it is easy to assume diversifying factors in people’s lives and therefore ignore the dignity that people intrinsically hold today. It is easy to assume that the melting pot is a catalyst for ignorance and injustices. However, with time and reasoning, humanity can be upheld with more enhancing features as differences like religion and identity merge together. The melting pot invokes thought that is forced to be held accountable because of polar opposite views of this ideology, increasing human appreciation with beauty and authenticity, even if it is not as direct or explicit as desired. No change or admiration is incorporated into society without initiating the desire to discuss a topic, and Angels in America truly does this by exposing varying characters in varying situations at varying times. In Angels in America, Joe and Harper’s active nature in their Mormon faith compared to their challenges of sexuality and addiction can provide evidence for how true hope can still be a foundation that is unshakable for ages to come.

Numerous women hold each other closely in intimacy and authenticity. Radiant, colorful jackets keep these women warm in the sun. Photo by Vonecia Carswell.


A woman smiles to her right, wearing a denim jacket with a grey hoodie. Photo by Tofi Heftiba.


Lahlou, Karim. “Recent Posts.” Claires CI Blog, 24 Jan. 2016, sites.psu.edu/cedoughertyciblog/2016/01/24/35/.

Orosco, José-Antonio. “Toppling the Melting Pot.” 2016, doi:10.2307/j.ctt2005wtt.


Created with images by Jed Villejo - "Running through the Trees" • Matthew T Rader - "untitled image" • Jaron Nix - "Morning outside the Grand Teton National Park, at Mormon Row." • Michael Hart - "6/24/2019 evening shot of the Salt Lake City, Utah Mormon Temple" • Aaron Burden - "untitled image" • Aaron Burden - "untitled image" • Casey Horner - "Twilight city" • Anastasia Vityukova - "instagram: anastasiavityukova__" • Vonecia Carswell - "I took this photograph of a group of ladies at a photo walk in NYC. It perfectly exemplified the unity that took place among photographers, models and creatives alike. Shout out to International Women’s Day." • Toa Heftiba - "laugher"