Kushner uses this America-loving character ironically to reflect a self-obsessed nation. When its glorified principles are applied in real life, they create more harm than good. When applied in real life, these “Big Ideas,” such as Manifest Destiny or even simpler, a vision Andrew Jackson had for America, justified the brutality of the Trail of Tears, where 20,000 Cherokees were marched westward at gunpoint. When applied in real life, in maintaining this American Dream a reality in which people can just look the other way in the face of suffering was created.
On the other hand, Kushner utilizes the only non-white character, Belize, to reflect the American Reality. All the characters in the play generally agree that America is a decent place despite its imperfections — except for Belize. After Louis arrogantly accuses Belize of being in love with Prior, Belize counters by saying, “I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. It’s just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem… set the word “free” to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me” (Kushner 228; Perestroika Act 4 Scene 3).
James Baldwin puts it well in his article “On Being White.... And Other Lies” when he wrote, “[i]t is a vision as remarkable for what it pretends to include as for what it remorselessly diminishes, demolishes or leaves totally out of account.” Those that are not privileged to be white are denied by these “Big Ideas.” To them, the American Dream is nothing but a harmful myth — a myth that is so real it becomes a physical barrier keeping the domestic outsiders on the other side in the cruel, racist, and limiting reality. The best thing is, this line separating the American Dream from the American Reality is a one-way mirror. Louis, as a white American, could ignorantly comment on Belize's experience because those already in the loop sees nothing but their own glorious reflections. They remain completely oblivious to the reality on the other side of the glass because “[t]hey do not want to know the meaning, or face the shame, of what they compelled — out of what they took as the necessity of being white — Joe Louis (African-American boxer) or Jackie Robinson (first African American to play in Major League Baseball)... to pay” (Baldwin Course Reader 244). As American comedian and social critic George Carlin puts it, “[t]hat's why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
There are two characters present in the scene, Belize and Louis, and there are great contrasts between the two. Belize walks in confidently wearing a rain jacket, whereas Louis is soaked with rain and sad-looking. Belize is the only pop of color in the scene, while Louis’s grey shirt blends into the somber background. This, perhaps, is a reflection of Kushner’s critique on the American Reality. The glorious angel behind Louis, who is supposed to lead America into its bright “Manifest Destiny” blends uninteresting into the grey background.
Similarly, Louis, a character so driven by the American Dream and ideals, turns out sad, guilty, and confused — contrasted with Belize, the character representing good morale standing — what Kushner is implying is crystal clear. The nation of the United States is so hyper-focused on attaining its ideals and individual success, it became lost in its own desires and hunger for power.
As reflected through the character Louis in Angels in America, the American Dream is the kind of wishful idealism that allows people who blindly chase after it to just sit on the sidelines, the kind of hope that ignores all the sufferings happening right in front of their eyes, and the kind of desire that creates self-assurance and ignorance. Put into the context of our world, a world full of diverse people and experiences, these ideals create boundaries rather than stepping stones. Just as Louis leaves behind Prior because he no longer fits the ideal, these ideals allow the United States to shut out and suppressed its domestic outsiders — slaves, immigrants, nonwhites — more brutally than Old World elites ever did to their laborers and peasants. “[T]his cowardice, this necessity… of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen” (Baldwin CR 244). This is now the American Reality: solidarity against those that do not align with the “Big Ideas.” A world that is cold, unforgiving, and selfish.