Zooman and the Sign Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The play, set in Philadelphia, begins with a rapping monologue delivered by the jive-talking “Zooman,” Lester Johnson, a teenage thug who has just killed a little girl in a gang shootout. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he says, expressing no remorse for having killed the twelve-year-old. Zooman’s monologues continue to punctuate the action, but the main dramatic focus is upon the angry and grief-stricken family of Zooman’s victim.

Reuben Tate (a bus driver who has been estranged from his wife because of an affair with another woman) and his wife, Rachel, are mourning the death of their child Jinny; they are joined in their grief by Uncle Emmett and their fifteen-year-old son, Victor. Emmett is a hothead who argues for revenge, “an eye for an eye,” but Reuben is more restrained, exclaiming, “We’re not head hunters!” Rachel wrongly blames herself for having allowed the child to play outside. Victor says nothing in this argument but asks his friend Russell if he can find him a gun, which Russell agrees to do.

When a neighbor, Donald Jackson, stops by to offer condolences, the audience learns that Reuben had been a light-heavyweight boxer and something of a local celebrity of one time. Jackson tells Reuben that no one on the block would tell the police that they had seen anything. The Tate family knows that there were, in fact, witnesses, and they are disturbed by their neighbors’ silence.

In his second monologue, Zooman confesses that “I shot the little bitch ’cause I felt like it!” The audience learns that Zooman and his friend Stockholm served time for raping a schoolteacher, a crime that Zooman claims they did not commit. It is later revealed that Zooman has committed other crimes as well, including armed robbery, and that he is a hard and brutal case. He seems to be the egotistical personification of evil.

Meanwhile, Reuben has attempted to contact the neighbors to find a witness to the shooting, but they are all...

(The entire section is 822 words.)

Zooman and the Sign Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Anadolu-Okur, Nilgun. Contemporary African American Theater: Afrocentricity in the Works of Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, and Charles Fuller. New York: Garland, 1997.

Banham, Martin, ed. The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Baraka, Amiri. “The Descent of Charlie Fuller into Pulitzerland and the Need for African-American Institutions.” Black Literature Forum 17 (Summer, 1983): 51-54.

Draper, James P., ed. Black Literature Criticism. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Fuller, Charles. “Pushing Beyond the Pulitzer.” Interview by Frank White. Ebony 38 (March, 1983): 116.

Fuller, Charles. “When Southern Blacks Went North.” Interview by Helen Dudar. The New York Times, December 18, 1988, p. C5.

Harriot, Esther. “Charles Fuller: The Quest for Justice.” In American Voices: Five Contemporary Playwrights in Essays and Interviews. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988.

Savran, David. In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theater Communications Group, 1988.