(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Peter, a successful upper-middle-class man who works in the publishing business, is reading on a bench in Central Park in New York City on a sunny summer afternoon. Another man, Jerry, an aimless, rootless outsider who describes himself as a “permanent transient,” declares that he has come from the zoo and insists on talking to Peter. Peter does not want to be bothered. He tries to brush off Jerry and get on with his reading, but Jerry confronts him to examine his life. In the course of their conversation, the audience discovers that Peter is married; has two daughters, two parakeets, and two television sets; lives in a nice neighborhood; and has an executive position in textbook publishing. When Peter questions Jerry about his life, Jerry accuses him of trying to make sense out of things and bring order to a chaotic world. Although these two men are nearly the same age, one in his late thirties and the other in his early forties, they seem to have very little in common, at least on the surface.

Jerry tells Peter that he has had only short-term relationships with women. After discussing the difference between fantasy and reality, Jerry abruptly brings the conversation back to the reason for his trip to the zoo. He proceeds to tell Peter a long, detailed story about his landlady and her dog, who are the gatekeepers of his dwelling. Jerry lives in a rooming house, and the landlady’s dog attacks him every time he comes in. He is fascinated with and challenged by the dog’s hatred and wants to find a way to make contact with the animal. He tells Peter that he decided that he would first try to kill the dog with kindness, and if that did not work, he would simply kill it. He fed the dog hamburgers, but the dog’s hatred did not diminish. He then decided to give the dog a poisoned hamburger, but still nothing happened. The dog did not die,...

(The entire section is 757 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Zoo Story, Albee’s first important play, was partially written on his thirtieth birthday, in 1958, as a present to himself. Albee composed the play in three weeks but then could not find an American producer who would stage it. Albee had created a highly unusual and original work in his first venture that bears comparison with Samuel Beckett’s first play, En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954). Eventually, a German production of The Zoo Story was arranged on September 28, 1959, at the Schiller Theatre Werkstatt in Berlin. Four months later, the American premiere took place—on a double bill with Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape—on January 14, 1960, at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City and ran for 582 performances. Albee won the Vernon Rice Memorial Award for The Zoo Story.

The Zoo Story is a stunning tour de force by a new playwright. It is theatrically simple yet thematically complex. The long one-act play has only two characters, strangers to each other, who meet in Central Park on a summer Sunday afternoon. When the curtain rises, Peter is sitting on a park bench reading a book. Albee describes him as “a man in his early forties, neither fat nor gaunt, neither handsome nor homely.” The other character, Jerry, walks in and sees Peter. Albee’s brief description is as follows: “a man in his late thirties, not poorly dressed, but carelessly.” He exhibits “a great weariness.”

The Zoo Story is classically structured into three main segments that develop in a climactic...

(The entire section is 666 words.)