Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Symbolism of Angel Dumott Schunard in RENT: My Interpretation

As my first legitimate post I figured I'd post this. I originally wrote this last spring and published it under my Facebook Notes but figured that since Christmas has just recently passed and I also mention New Years as well, it is an appropriate choice. I was inspired to write about one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite musicals and how this character represents the true meaning of Christmas.

Warning: This note is more so for those who are familiar with the concepts and storyline of the musical RENT. I’d love for anyone to read this but just a warning that it may contain spoilers. Also keep in mind that I don’t consider myself a Renthead because I just got into it a few weeks ago so if I get some facts wrong I apologize!

It has recently occurred to me that the phenomenon musical RENT is indeed a Christmas play and movie just as much as Charles Dickens’ specialty is. Think about it. It begins on Christmas Eve and ends on Christmas Eve a year later. In the theater production, the characters sing various Christmas carols, including Jonathan Larson’s original song “Christmas Bells.” Though it would not be considered one of them jolly Christmas jingles, it is still there. Plus, there are various Christmas morals of happiness suggesting family togetherness, living life to the fullest, and just trying to make the best out of the worst possible circumstances. What I want to know is when is RENT going to become a Christmas special on ABC in the running with Rudolph, the Grinch, and Frosty? I think it would be interesting to watch Idina Menzel moo in RENT a week before Christmas Eve instead of watching Jim Carrey steal Christmas. LOL. Nothing against How the Grinch Stole Christmas, for I happen to enjoy Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Grinch and the movie itself, but it would be nice to have RENT in the lineup for the 12 Days of Christmas. I’m just saying. :) Though one would probably not think of RENT as a family-friendly film considering the various adult references. But I say, what is wrong with a little catering to the adults of the world?

Okay so I seem to be going a little off topic. So I have already established that I find RENT to be a Christmas production. That being said, why not believe that Larson had intended for his character Angel Dumott Schunard to represent his namesake, a legitimate guardian “angel,” a symbol of Christmas. I definitely feel like there is much more to him symbolically than what meets the eye. For those of you who do not know who Angel is, the following is a brief description of him in a nutshell: He is a homosexual drag queen who prefers female pronouns and has a keen ability to bust a move in heels. She hangs out in a tree playing a drum that looks more like a white plastic bucket, falls for fellow lead character Tom Collins after rescuing him from the street after he is mugged, kills Benny’s dog (without knowing it was Benny’s) by driving the dog crazy with her drum playing to the point where the dog makes a excitable jump from the third story of a building. This is all for a rich lady who randomly shows up in a limousine complaining about how the canine’s constant barking have kept her from her slumber. Phew. Try to say all that in one breath.

Also, like a majority of the characters, she also suffers from AIDS.

Regardless of this disease, Angel is one of the more joyful characters (after all, isn’t Christmas the season of joy?) in the production while the others pout about the doom and gloom of poor living conditions, AIDS, and relationship issues. In fact, the best relationship the story has to offer is the relationship between Angel and Collins, which seemingly has no visible flaws and is very heartwarming.

When the other characters begin to split apart, hence the term “rent” being a huge theme in the production, she is the optimistic glue that holds them together, especially in the New Year scene when all of the couples begin to argue and she encourages them to form a clean slate. Even take the scene where Angel first meets Collins. She did not have to help a total stranger, and yet she did. She, Angel, Collins’ “guardian angel,” represents what Christmas is all about.

What had me begin thinking about Angel symbolizing an actual angel is when I saw one particular scene: Contact. Look it up on Youtube. That is how I saw and heard it. It is basically the scene when Angel expires from AIDS. Cut out the various sexual innuendos and orgasmic moans and you get a very spiritual moment. We find Angel standing above a flowing white sheet dressed in white (the proper angel attire in my opinion), thus giving the illusion that she is ascending into heaven. “Take me! Take me!” she repetitively cries, and we can only assume she is crying for the assistance of a higher power. However, the sexual innuendos do serve a point, for once Angel's solo occurs, the rest of the cast, unsatisfied with their night of pleasure, claim, “It’s Over,” between them, to which Collins responds, “It’s Over,” meaning Angel has lost her battle with AIDS. Notice how as soon as she finishes singing to God the rest of the couples break apart and from then on the show takes an even more depressing turn and the friends go their separate ways. Angel’s death is the “rent."

I chose to write about Angel because I find her to be one of those very inspirational and complex (in a good way) characters that you just have to analyze. She has these many qualities and associations and seems to cover a more entertaining background throughout the show in comparison to the rest of the characters who seem to travel an unchanging wave. The way her character deteriorates as she perishes and how the rest of the cast is affected once their solid rock, their “angel,” is gone, is phenomenal. She is the piece of the puzzle to move the story along and seems to do so more than the lead characters, which is ironic for she is a subplot to the Roger and Mimi love story.

Nonetheless, Angel remains to be the group’s link to each other even after death when lead character Mark Cohen cures his “filmer’s block” (play on writer’s block) and dedicates his film to her and their friends’ lives in the past year. She is the angel who helps reunite a family once again. As you can see, Angel Dumott Schunard represents practically every aspect of what the Christmas season should be.


  1. I simply agree with you 100 percent! I never thought of how she sympolizes the Christmas, though. That was interesting. I think one more thing that makes her live up to her name, is the fact that angels as their spoken of commonly, don't have any gender. You're not supposed to know their genders, and Angel being referred to as a 'she', even though she biologically is a guy. That is a modern, yet funny twist to the story!

  2. Hey mytimefrom93tonow!

    Thank you so much for your comment and compliments! I'm so glad you like my piece! It's funny because this piece is old and is the first thing I posted on here, so I'm glad people are still able to find it and read it! If you don't mind, can you please tell me how you found this? I'm just curious about the different ways people view my blog lol.

    Thank you also for your insight about angels not having genders. I didn't think of it like that haha. Yes, I agree it is a good twist to the story! :)


  3. This is so true! I absolutely adore Angel, she is the absolute best character. Ever. I've been really thinking about what she symbolizes a lot too. She does symbolize the Christmas season/spirit. :)

  4. Thank you for your insight on Angel. I've seen the show before, too, and very much agree with what you said. I found out a local theatre company is producing this show a year from now, and I'm considering auditioning for this part, so I'm trying to immerse myself in her as much as possible before then. It feels like a good character for me. I think I can bring a real sense of the gender duality to her, along with my acting and singing. :)

    You asked above, so I'll tell you that I found this entry by putting "rent angel character analysis" into google. It was the second option on the page.

    1. Oh wow! That is so cool! My blog is the second option after Angel's Wiki. :D I didn't know that. Thanks for letting me know. :)

      Break a leg with your audition if you do decide to do it, Kelleigh! Let me know how it goes if you want. :)

    2. Thanks. I'm not sure when the auditions are yet, probably not for a little while, but I will keep you posted! :)

      By the younger brother was MSU Class of 2009.

    3. Oh wow! Cool! What did he major in?

    4. I assume you've read more of my blog to know that I went there? lol

    5. Yes, I did, lol. He was a History major.

    6. Very insightful and I never thought of Angel as the spirit of Christmas and their guardian angel. Sadly Larson passed away so we will never know for sure if that was what he had in mind when he created that character. By the way, I graduated from MSU in 1997. Early Childhood Education major. I was at the campus about a year or two ago and booooy have things changed since I was a student. lol

    7. Hi, Anonymous! I'm glad you liked this! :)

      Yay, MSU Alumni! lol Yeah things have changed since I was a student too, and I graduated only 2 years ago! lol You should see it now!

  5. Hi, I just thought I would point out that there is some debate as to if Angel is transgender or if she is a drag queen. Either way, she, as you pointed out, prefers female pronouns, and this should be respected. I assume based on your wording that you are unfamiliar with the transgender* community and that's ok, but for future references, there are some things that you should know.
    If someone wants to be referred to using female names and pronouns, that should be respected, regardless of what their appearance or physical attributes may suggest. Also, you probably didn't know this, but when you put their preferred pronouns in quotations (ex. "...who prefers to be referred to as 'she'... ”) you are suggesting that you do not believe that person is the gender they identify and that you are meaning to disrespect their identity, because putting quotes around it makes it seem sarcastic. I highly doubt that's what you meant to have come across, but I thought you should know that that is how others might take it.
    I do like your theory about Rent being (among so many other things) a Christmas play/movie. I do not doubt that Angel was named as such to convey the symbolism of being a guardian angel. Another thing worth mentioning is that (spoiler alert) when Mimi is dying and heading towards the light, she sees Angel, which I have no doubt was also an intentional bit of symbolism.
    Anyway, I'm not trying to make you feel bad or anything, these are mistakes a lot of people who are unfamiliar with trans* and drag culture make. I just want to spread some knowledge so that maybe you don't make them again.
    Best wishes,
    Your friendly neighborhood trans* man.

    1. Thank you very much, Ross! I appreciate your comment! Yeah I wrote this piece a long time ago (it was my second blog post haha), so that may account for my lack of knowledge about the subject at the time. I'm still learning about the transgender community and appreciate you taking the time to educate me a bit about it.

      I mean no disrespect at all. I just put "she" in quotations to help it stand out for grammatical reasons. It has nothing to do with me questioning her. :) However, I do see how that can come across. Thank you for letting me know.