Paul Zindel Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do Paul Zindel’s young adult novels differ from those by other writers in this genre?

Explain how Zindel’s works question traditional values.

Compare Zindel’s treatment of loneliness in his plays and his fiction.

How does Zindel use science as a metaphor?

Discuss the treatment of child abuse in Zindel’s works.

Discuss the influence of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) on Zindel’s fiction.

Is the bizarre behavior of Zindel’s adult characters realistic, exaggerated for artistic purposes, or a weakness in his art?

How is The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds the seed for most of Zindel’s later works?

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Paul Zindel once considered himself primarily a playwright, and in 1990 said, “basically, I’m a dramatist”; he enjoyed great success as a writer of novels for teenagers, however, and it is in this capacity that he is best known. His first such work, The Pigman (1968), sold in the millions, and sequels such as The Pigman’s Legacy (1980) followed. A 1989 book, A Begonia for Miss Applebaum, was critically well received, and the autobiographical The Pigman and Me was published in 1992. Zindel’s teen characters confront the pangs and thrills of young adult reality as they reach for friendship, for romantic love, for mature perspectives on sexuality, and for success or at least survival in school or work. In 1984, Zindel published his first novel for adults, When a Darkness Falls. During the 1990’s Zindel began writing series chapter novels including comedy, mystery, and horror for pre-teen audiences.

Zindel wrote screenplays for Up the Sandbox (1972), Mame (1974), Runaway Train (1983), and Maria’s Lovers (1984), and a teleplay, Let Me Hear You Whisper (1966). He also wrote for periodicals.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Paul Zindel’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds gained acceptance not only in the form of broadcasts on National Educational Television in New York but also through stage performances at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. Zindel secured a Ford Foundation grant as a playwright-in-residence at the Alley in 1967. In 1970, the play opened in New York, Off-Broadway; then it moved to the New Theatre on Broadway. It closed on May 14, 1972, after 819 performances. The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds received an Obie Award for the best Off-Broadway play in 1970. Also in 1970, Zindel won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play and the Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award as the most promising playwright of the season. In 1971, he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Wagner College, and a Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The success of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds was followed in 1971 by a Broadway production of And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, a play previously staged in Los Angeles in 1967. The Broadway production, starring Julie Harris, ran for 108 performances, and the play made the list of the ten best plays for the 1971 season. Zindel next brought a comedy to Broadway, The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, which lasted for only twenty-three performances.

Joining the Actors Studio in 1973, Zindel extensively revised earlier material to produce Ladies at the Alamo, which he himself directed at Actors Studio for a two-week run in 1975. He directed the same play in a brief Broadway run in 1977, as well as a New York revival of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds in 1978. The Coconut Grove Playhouse in Coconut Grove, Florida, premiered Zindel’s A Destiny with Half Moon Street in its 1982-1983 repertory.

Zindel’s plays have moved from little and regional theaters to Broadway and back. Critics say that his later plays have not fulfilled the expectations raised by his initial success. Still, Zindel’s plays continue to be performed in high school, college, touring company, and regional repertory productions.

In 1998 Zindel was honored, along with forty-three other notable dramatists such as Edward Albee, by a walk-of-fame bronze star on the Playwrights’ Sidewalk outside the Lortel Theater in Greenwich Village. In 2002 he also received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lifetime writing contribution to literature for young adults, an honor presented by the Young Adult Library Services Association.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barnes, Clive. “Troubled Times for a Teen.” Review of Amulets Against the Dragon Forces, by Paul Zindel. New York Post, April 7, 1989. Barnes finds a “commonplace honesty” beneath the play’s pretentiousness in this review of the Circle Repertory Company’s production. Barnes finds “the same quality of compassion” as in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Barnes states that the play has “the air of a work written to enable its author to get something off his chest.”

Dace, Tish. “Paul Zindel: Overview.” In Contemporary Dramatists, edited by K. A. Berney. 5th ed. Detroit: St James Press, 1993. Discusses characters, plot, and themes of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Zindel’s best-known play.

DiGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. In one chapter, DiGaetani interviews Zindel about the influences of psychoanalysis on his work and the reasons for his gradual transition to young adult novels. Zindel’s destructive relation with Hollywood is also discussed with considerable candor. Asked which playwrights Zindel admires, he replied, “I’m happy to say none.”

Evett, Marianne. “‘Moon-Marigolds’ Author in Nostalgic Return Here.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 4, 1990. This preview of Cleveland Playhouse’s revival of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, with Marlo Thomas in the role of Beatrice, includes a telephone interview with Zindel, who remembers the first productions and his “bubbly publicity agent (Bonnie Hildebrand). I ended up marrying her.” He reports here that he “escaped East [from Hollywood] to keep my sanity intact.”

Fischer, David Marc. “Paul Zindel: The Shouting Play, the Whispering Novel.” Writing 24 (February/March, 2002): 20. Presents an interview with Zindel covering a discussion of his career as teacher and writer with emphasis on distinguishing between the style of language and writing appropriate for drama as opposed to the novel.

Forman, Jack Jacob. Presenting Paul Zindel. Boston: Twayne, 1988. A basic biography that includes criticism and interpretation focused primarily on Zindel’s fiction. Useful indexes and bibliography.

Haley, Beverly A., and Kenneth L. Donelson. “Pigs and Hamburger, Cadavers and Gamma Rays: Paul Zindel’s Adolescents.” Elementary English 51, no. 7 (October, 1974): 940-945. Provides social analysis of the values embodied by Zindel’s character development.

Lesesne, Teri. “Humor, Bathos and Fear: An Interview with Paul Zindel.” Teacher Librarian 27 (December, 1999): 60. Zindel discusses his thematic emphasis on teenage misfits in young-adult novels and drama, citing a scene from The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds as an example of his best work.

Oliver, Edith. “Why the Lady Is a Tramp.” The New Yorker 46, no. 9 (April 18, 1970): 82, 87-88. Reprinted in Drama for Students, volume 12. Reviews the 1970 performance of The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds directed by Melvin Bernhardt.

Slaight, Craig, ed.. New Plays from ACT’s Young Conservatory. Vol. 2. Lume, N.H.: Smith and Kraus, 1996. Contains the text of Every Seventeen Minutes the Crowd Goes Crazy! with commentary by Craig Slaight, Zindel, and student actors from the play.

Strickland, Ruth L. “Paul Zindel.” In Twentieth Century American Dramatists, edited by John MacNicholas. Vol. 7 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1981. Includes discussion of Zindel’s primary themes.

Zindel, Paul. Interview by Audrey Eaglen. Top of the News 34, no. 2 (Winter, 1978): 178-185. Includes a discussion of Zindel’s early influences.