Characters Discussed

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Peter, an executive for a publishing house. An average-sized and nearsighted man in his early forties, Peter has Catholic tastes and dresses conservatively; he is an upper-class representative of the Eisenhower years. His family life is predictably normal: a good wife, two daughters, two cats, two parakeets, and a nice apartment in the East Seventies of Manhattan. His attitude reflects his status: He is naïve, complacent, passive, proper, and a bit bored. His intention on this afternoon was to read quietly in Central Park. A stranger, Jerry, interrupts him with talk and then aggression. Although Peter is slow to anger, Jerry’s incessant prodding eventually drives him to pick up Jerry’s knife. After Jerry impales himself, Peter exits the now-ending play with his previously established character destroyed by this chance and absurd encounter.


Jerry, an emotionally disturbed man in his late thirties. Anxious and angry about his bisexuality, poverty, and alienation, Jerry tries to make sense of his pain by walking from the New York Zoo looking for another human to confront. Finding Peter, he talks in a rambling yet intelligent way about the miseries of his life. His autobiography reveals his inability to relate to others, including the fellow residents of his rooming house on the upper West Side. In a final and suicidal attempt to give his life meaning, Jerry has on this day set out intent on creating the suicidal encounter that ends the play. By impaling himself on a knife held by Peter, the paragon of the normal, Jerry at once makes contact with another human and challenges the bourgeois sense of social and moral order.

The Landlady

The Landlady, the caretaker of Jerry’s rooming house. A lustful, obese, ignorant, and drunken woman, she, like her dog, makes unwanted advances toward Jerry. Presented in one of his narratives, she is the emblem of his disgust with humanity and the repulsiveness of his experiences.

The Dog

The Dog, the landlady’s canine friend. This black beast with a constant erection snarls and attempts to bite Jerry every time he enters or leaves his room. In an attempt to placate the monster, Jerry feeds it hamburgers and finally poisons the dog. When the dog recovers, Jerry is strongly drawn to the now-calmer animal. For a moment, he feels empathy for the dog that he has hurt. This violent love/hate foreshadows the play’s final encounter between Jerry and Peter.

The queen

The queen, a black homosexual who occupies a flat in Jerry’s building. This gay man lives with his door always open, never leaving except to go to the bathroom; he does nothing but model his Japanese kimono and tweeze his eyebrows. In Jerry’s eyes, he becomes the image of an indifferent and supercilious god.


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Jerry, the antagonist in The Zoo Story , confronts Peter while he is reading a book in Central Park and coerces him into partaking in an act of violence. Albee gives the following description of Jerry: "A man in his late thirties, not poorly dressed, but carelessly. What was once a trim and lightly muscled body has begun to go to fat; and while he is no longer handsome, it is evident that he once was.'' In contrast to Peter, Jerry lives in a four-story brownstone roominghouse on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. During the 1950s, this was a much poorer neighborhood than the East 70s, where Peter lives. Jerry is single and lives in one small room that is actually half a room separated from...

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the other half by beaverboard.

Throughout the course of the play, Jerry tells Peter only what he wants Peter to know, and does not like to be asked questions or be judged. He makes a point of telling Peter very personal details of his life, like how his parents both died when he was a child and how he was a homosexual for a week and a half when he was fifteen and now only sees prostitutes. Peter finds Jerry's stories disturbing but fascinating and it is only when they get very strange that Peter begins to question Jerry's intentions. Jerry uses all of his resources, including his storytelling ability, his humor, and finally his violent aggression, to make-sure that Peter does not leave until he gets what he wants from him. In the end, Jerry resorts to physically attacking Peter so that Peter has to defend himself. Jerry sets it up so that he is able to impale himself on his own knife, while Peter holds it out in self-defense. In the end, Jerry uses Peter to get what he has planned to get from him all along.

Peter is the protagonist in The Zoo Story who after coming to Central Park to spend some time alone on his favorite bench to read a book on a Sunday afternoon, has his life forever changed by Jerry, who confronts him. Albee describes Peter as: "A man in his early forties, neither fat nor gaunt, neither handsome nor homely." Peter lives on Seventy-fourth Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, which was a rather wealthy neighborhood in Manhattan during the late 1950s. He is married, has two daughters, cats, and two parakeets. He holds an executive position at a small publishing house that publishes textbooks. These details about Peter's life all come out of the dialogue that he has with Jerry, and although at first they seem to be trivial facts, they serve an important function in establishing the two different worlds in which Peter and Jerry live.

When Jerry first confronts Peter at the beginning of the play, Peter is reluctant to have a conversation with Jerry and is obviously annoyed by him. However, Jerry's manner and the way he talks intrigues Peter and it is this intrigue that allows Jerry to pull him into his world. The beginning of the conversation seems to be controlled more by Peter, because Jerry must use different tactics to keep Peter interested and to recover when he offends him. However, it is Jerry's vivid descriptions of his life that mesmerize Peter and allow Jerry to gain control over the situation. By the end of the play, Peter has unwillingly allowed Jerry to use him as a pawn in Jerry's plan to end his own life. In the end, Jerry leaves Peter with an experience that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Although he is more educated and has had more social and economic advantages than Jerry, Peter is the weaker and more naïve of the two men.




Critical Essays