How does the set design at the beginning of Zoot Suit establish themes and ideas?

Quick answer:

Valdez sets up the themes and ideas of Zoot Suit by using the newspaper front page as a drop curtain that refers to zoot-suiters invading Los Angeles. The wording of the headline suggests that these people are foreign invaders and not people who already live in Los Angeles. As Pachuco suggests when he rips through the curtain, this is not the case.

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At the start of the play, Valdez states that "the giant facsimile of a newspaper front page serves as a drop curtain." On the newspaper, the audience can read a headline that reads, in capital letters, "ZOOT-SUITER HORDES INVADE LOS ANGELES. US NAVY AND MARINES ARE CALLED IN." Behind the curtain, Valdez says the audience can see the "outlines of pachuco images" hanging "subtly ... like an old suit hanging forgotten in the depths of a closet somewhere, sometime."

Straightaway, the audience knows that the setting is Los Angeles and that the play will examine the relationship between the zoot-suiters, the media, and the authorities. Initially, the wording in the headline may indicate to the audience that the zoot-suiters are a threat to society that the authorities need to stop. However, it is precisely these assumptions that Valdez wants the audience to question. When Pachuco cuts through the newspaper and stands in front of the audience in his zoot suit, he presents a shocking image that seems to confirm the violent nature of the zoot-suiters. However, whether they are violent or not is not the point. The point is why they are being violent and whether or not their violence is justified. The Los Angeles Times may claim they are invading Los Angeles, suggesting in its wording that they are illegally entering a country to cause problems, but from Pachuco's point of view, even if they don't see themselves as Americans, they are still citizens of the country. Therefore Pachuco believes the Columbus Day riots the headline is referring to were in fact the start of, as he states in his opening monologue, "a revolution."

From the Chicanos' point of view, American culture has alienated them, and they have no choice but to resort to violence. Therefore the zoot suit, the hair, and the strutting walk are a way for the younger generation to claim their own identity and make themselves heard.

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