_ _ _.,....-
Sciences sociales et humaines
EDWARD ALBEE'S THE ZOO STORY OR THE MISERY OF MODERN MAN
RenéAHOUANSOU
Université d'Abomey/Calavi-BENIN
ABSTRACT
Written and tirst performed in 1959 in the wake of On the_Rolid (1957) that created the Beat GeneratiOI
overnight it was reasonable to expect that Edward Alhee 's The Zoo StOl:V would echo the malaise of pos
wwn America with its spiritual vacuum and stultifying materialism. The two EisenhowerAdministration
brought toAmerica unprecedented prosperity along with deep moral impasse. Everything was sacrificed t(
Money; spiritual values lost their ground to materialistic considerations that deadened man's heart and soul
spiritual decay set in with londiness and misery for those who were hungry tor human relationships, humar
contact and companionship, the Beat Quest "par excellence".
The concept of""incommuni cability" (l'incommunicabilité des consciences) was resurrected to express tha
loneliness. The Existentialist philosophers and writers popularised the concept and the theatre of the absur(
made it its major theme as for instance. The Zoo StOl:V is a powerful expression of that loneliness, tha
""sickness unto death".
RÉSUMÉ
Ecrit et représenté pour la première fois en 1959, à la suite de On The Roud ( 1957) qui lança la Beat
Generation du jour au lendemain. The Zoo ,)'tOiT d'Edward Albee's était censé tàire écho aux Beatniks
parce qu'il décrit le malaise de la société américaine de l'après-guerre. son matérialisme forcené et son
marasme moral.
En effet les deux Administrations du Président Eisenhower ont apporté aux Américains une prospérité
économique jusque-là inégalée. Il en a résulté une course effrénée aux biens matériels qui étouffe les
vraies valeurs. entraînant par conséquent la mort spirituelle de l'homme, la solitude et la misère pour
ceux qui avaient vraiment faim de rapports humains. la quête par excellence des Beats.
Le concept d'incommunicabilité des consciences fut remis au goût du jour pour exprimer cette solitude.
Les existentialistes r ont rendu populaire et les dramaturges du théâtre de l'Absurde en ont tàit le thème
majeur de leurs pièces. The Zoo Story exprime avec force et puissance cette solitude. ce mal de vivre.
cette angoisse ontologique.
INTRODUCTION
A Shortly after The Zoo Story was completed, and
In his July 4, 1960 pretàce to the play, Albee tells us
while it was being read and politely refused by a
about the career of this play, the difticulties it
number ofNY producers... a young composer friend
encountered before being accepted and performed
of mine, William Flanagan by name, looked at the
in New-York, on January 14th, 1960. We' d better
play, liked it, and sent it to several friends of his,
quote him:
among them, David Diamond, another American
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1er Semestre)
39

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
composer. resident in Italy. Diamond liked the play
Park. New York) on a Sunday afternoon. There are
and sent it on to a friend ofhis, a Swiss actor, Pinkas
2 park benches and we have only two characters for
Braun. Braun liked the play, made a tape recording
the coming tragedy. With the stOl)', apparently taking
of it, playing both its roles. which he sent on to Mrs
place in a public park, the title therefore becomes
Stephanie Hunzinger, who heads the drama
enigmatic and will remain so until the end: unless
department of the S. Fischer Verlag. a large
the author has at the back ofhis mind. the notion of
publishing house in Frankfurt : she. in turn... weIl,
society as a human zoo, which the body of the play
through her it got to Berlin. and finally back to New-
does not bear out, or unless. as a critic puts il.
York where. on January 14, 1960, it received
"everyone entrenches himself behind iron bars
American production, off Broadway, at the
making communication impossible". Which reminds
Provincetown Playhouse on a double bill with
one ofO'Neill's uncomprending Yank in The Hairy
Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.
Ape.
1 read this last mentioned play and found that on
The two characters are as dissimilar as possible: of
two points, both plays are dealing with the same
course, if they were to resemble each other. that
topics and belong together in the same Absurdist
resemblance would have robbed the play of its
universe; the two topics being Man's loneliness. and
essential dramatic tension. The elements oftragedy
Sexuality. But they differ on the final outcome: if
are present in the enormous physical and moral
Peter kills himself. though KRAPP has thought of
differences between both characters.
committing suicide too, he finally decided to live in
[he memory of past possibilities ofhappiness.
Peter (meaning rock, may convey a Christian
symbol) is apparently a solid representative of
A few lines from the end ofKrapp ,s Last Tape in the
bourgeois society with its values and institutions.
French version will show the similarities of both
He is a respectable citizen. a quiet family man with
plays, but also the difference.
a wife. two (2) daughters. cats and two (2) parakeets
as pets. as you would find in selfrespecting bourgeois
"Je me suis traîné dehors une fois ou deux avant
households. Physically, he is a solid successful man:
que l'été se glace. Resté assis à grelotter dans le
a young executive. He is in his carly forties - not fat.
parc. noyé dans les rêves et branlant d'en finir. Per-
nor gaunl. nor handsome. nor homely. He wears
sonne... Dernières chimères... Me suis endormi et
horn-rimmed glasses which are a sign of
suis tombé du banc ...
intellectuality: he smokes a pipe. not cigarettes.
which are vulgar. He may be a member of either the
Me suis demandé quelquefois dans la nuit si un der-
lower or upper middle class. he belongs in the
nier effort ne serait peut-être ... Assez! Vide ta bou-
Establishment. ln other words. and in Beat
teille et fous-toi au pieu. Reprends ces conneries
terminology. he is a Square, a regular guy, meaning
demain ou restes-en-là. Installe-toi là dans le noir.
someone who confornls to social norms.
adossé aux oreillers - et vagabonde...
Jerry: on the other hand is apparently a less
... Ici. je termine cette bande... Peut-être que mes
successful and even a less reliable member ofsociety;
meilleures années sont passées. Quand il y avait en-
he strikes me much like Berenger in lonesco's
core une certaine chance de bonheur. Mais encore
Rhinoceros. He is in his late thirties but he seems
une chance de bonheur. Mais,je n'en voudrais plus.
already beaten up by life. He is not poorly dressed
Plus maintenant que fai ce feu en moi. Non. Non,je
but carelessly, aIl the same. But what matters most
n'en voudrais plus".
in his depiction is his weariness. He is said to have
once had a muscled trim and lightly body which is
Krapp accepts his misery. his loneliness;
now becoming fat, and he is no longer handsome;
acknowledges even the fact that man is ontologically
he has paid a heavy toll to life and fallen from physical
lonely, which the word feud, i.e. the excruciating
gracr: he is a fallen angel, so to speak. And even his
need and impossibility of communication
name and his sacrifice at the end of the play may
metaphoricallyexpresses.
evoke in the religiously-minded, the name of Jesus.
1would say that as opposed to Peter, Jerry is a Beat.
The setting of The Zoo Story is a public park (Central
40
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1 er Semestre)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
He has been buffeted and beaten up by life.
This is a very articulate way of putting what
But on the who le, The Zoo Story both in its
Jerry is going to confusedly act out in The Zoo
atmosphere and treatment of language has aIl the
Story* *. He immediately makes us aware of this
characteristics of the Drama of the Absurd.
modern phenomenon ofthe isolation of man. In an
effort to break the shell that imprisons him and to
Professor James F. Miller, jr defines the words surd
get free by connecting with other people (Peter here),
and absurd as follows:
he asks this perfect stranger if they can talk, if he
"Surd in its root meaning is irrational without reason
can ask him questions. This is an awkward way of
....... .In the Quest surd the irrationality lies
relating with people; he explains the drama of
predominantly in the Seeker , in the Quest Absurd,
modern man in our modern age when we are afraid
the irrationality lies predominantly in the world
of intruding on others, breaking into their silence:
where he wanders" pviii (Quest Surd and Absurd
he doesn't talk to people as a rule, he tells us. We
Essays in American Literature, University of
gather that his "conversation" is only utilitarian,
Chicago 1965). Given the nature of The Zoo Story,
stripped to the bare minimum designed to elicit the
it is obvious that it belongs in the Drama of the
information he needs "1 don't talk to many people-
Absurd. The Weltanschauung of the play is a very
except to say like: give me a beer, or where's the
lonelyone indeed with the two characters wrapped
john, or what time does the feature go on, or keep
up in their solitude that the strange kind of
your hands to yourself, buddy you know things like
conversation they try to keep going fails to 1 break.
that" (page 161). "Keep your hands to yourself,
Edward Albee has succeeded in achieving the same
buddy" is a precious indication ofhis sexuallife or
goal as Ionesco and Beckett i.e. revealing the
more explicitly his homosexuality. It's not that he
absurdity oflife through language or the breakdown
doesn't feel the need to talk-that would be unfair to
ofcommunication.
him, we would say that he hungers for human contact
but in a way, has to repress his desire to bridge the
That strong sense of the absurd starts with the very
gap. However, that hunger sometimes gets the better
first words spoken by Jerry to Peter whom he does
ofhim and then he does depart from his self-imposed
not know, has never met before , informing him that
restriction for "in every once in a while 1like talk to
he has been to the zoo, repeating that information
sornebody, really talk, like to get to know somebody
three times , each time with mounting emphasis .
know aIl about him"(page 161). It's this hunger for
AlI along, Jerry refers to the zoo without ever telling
human contact that has led him to the park, to Peter
his interlocutor or the audience what happened there.
with this abrupt opening about his visit to the zoo;
Albee keeps us expectant. The Bald Prima Dona or
there is aggressiveness, even a sort of provocation
The Lesson and other plays of the genre are
in his opening by asking Peter - whether he minds
dislocations of reality that in a poetic image show
having a chat with him.
us the futility and the irrationality of our existence
and our metaphysicalloneliness and estrangement
Jerry: "Yes you do; you do.
as a consequence. The best description ofour plight
Peter: "No, really, 1 don't mind".
is given by Jean Paul Sartre in his Nausea*:
Jerry: ''Yes you do" (page16o)
It is a matter of psychological interest to know
Nous étions un tas d'existants gênés, embarrassés
how many times Jerry has referred to his visit
de nous-mêmes, nous n'avons pas la moindre rai-
to the zoo as if it were an "idée fixe" an
son d'être là ni les uns ni les autres, chaque existant
obsession, ln a 6 entry dialogue, he mentions
, confus, vaguement inquiet, se sentant de trop par
the word zoo five times and then seems to have
rapport aux autres. De trop ... moi aussi j'étais de
completely forgotten it:
trop
Je rêvais vaguement de me supprimer
.... Mais ma mort même eût été de trop. De trop
Jerry: Wait until you see the expression on
mon cadavre, mon sang sur ces cailloux
j'étai~
his face
de trop pour l'éternité.
Peter: What? Whose face? Look here; is this
something about the zoo?
,. Lagarde & Michard:XX"- siècle, Bordas, Paris 1969, page 557.
Jerry: The zoo?
•• The ZooS/al)' in Absurd Drama (Penguin Plays, 1982)
Peter: Vou mentioned it several times
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 ner Semestre)
41

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Science.~ sociales et humaines
Jerry: (still distant but returning abrupt/y)
t100r and who cries aIl the time:
the zoo? Oh yes: the zoo. 1was there before
1 know because she cries aIl the time
1 came here. 1told you that (page 163)
wherever 1go out or come back in, whenever
1 pass her door , 1 always hear crying ,
muft1ed , but... very determined. Very
ln the meantime, Jerry has been carrying on a
determined indeed (page 168).
senseless kind of dialogue,jumping from one thing
to an unrelated one, breaking up what little
Another prisoner oflife is the drink-sodden landlady
communication he had been able to establish with
who would corner him with her sweaty lust. She
Peter; so much so that the latter bewildered,
too is lonely with her "ill-used" dog al ways in
disconcerted by this seeming lack ofcommunication
erection .Only Albee knows what he means by "ill-
(page 161) remarks "I1's that you don't really carry
used dog" but this human misery that cornes from
on a conversation; you just ask question" ( page
too much loneliness is the landlady's everyday
163). Jerry's loneliness is the kind that leads to
experience that she dulls and deadens by drinking.
neurosis and ultimate1y to suicide and the fatal end
of their mock fight was of his own doing .His last
The woman is bad enough; she leans around
words are tragically replete with loneliness and
in the entrance hall {..... }and when she's had
betray his decision to get rid of his life.
her mid afternoon pint of lemon-t1avoured
Oh, Peter, 1 was so afraid l'd drive you away {... }
gin she always stops me in the hall, and grabs
you don't know how afraid 1 was you' d go away
a hold ofmy coat or my arm, and she presses
and leave me. And now 1'11 tell you what happened
her disgusting body up against me to keep
at the zoo. 1think ... 1think ... this is what happened
me in a corner so she can talk to me [... ]
at the zoo ... 1 think that while 1 was at the zoo 1
when she presses herself to my body and
decided that 1would walk north ... northerly , rather
mumbles about her room and how 1 would
... untill found YOU .•. or sornebody ... and 1decided
come there (page 169).
that 1 would talk to you ... .l would tell you things
... and things that 1 would tell you . WeIl here we
So much loneliness distracts the mind and as a
are ... you see. Here we are.(Page 184)
consequence, the landlady can't keep track of her
doings and is easily persuaded as Jerry tells the
And here he is indeed dying at the point of his own
audience, she deludes herselffor he has found a way
switch blade and the things he has told Peter are
to get rid ofher by making her believe that thev had
about man's pathetic and tragic loneliness. lt is aIl
had sex the previous days:

to the credit of Edward Albee to have depicted for
his audience in very few words what philosophers
Love, wasn't yesterday enough for you, and
from Kierkegaard, Jaspers to Camus and Sartre have
the day before? Then she puzzles, she makes
tried through their writings volumes to bring to our
slits of her tiny eye, she sways a little , and
awareness. The roominghouse where Jerry has been
then ,Peter ... it is at this moment that 1think
living until his death hour is a microcosm of our
1 might be doing sorne good in that
modern world, the dominant note of the description
tormented house.... a simple-minded smile
he has given us is the utter loneliness of its inmates.
begins to form on her unthinkable face, and
The sadness of their twisted lives is what Jerry
she giggles and groans as she thinks about
imparts to us. As he said, on the other side of his
yesterday and the day before as she believes
beaverwood partition wall, there lived a coloured
and relives what never happened [... ]. And 1
queen who always keeps his door open ,plucks his
am safe until our next meeting (page 169).
eyebrows with buddhist concentration, goes to the
toilets with his Japanese kimono open; he never
Jerry confesses that his lying to the landlady is sorne
has any visitor. He lives aIl by himself. That is on the
kind of good he does in what he calls that tormented
fourth floor, back. In the front room, there live the
house because the love-starved landlady, would
Puerto Rican family who entertain a lot but in the
begin to smile with happiness for what had never
other front room, next to the Puerto Rican family,
been. She needs that illusion to go through, the
lives somebody he doesn't know, he has never seen.
drudgery ofher every day life but her dog is as eager
He then tells us about the lady who lives on the third
for Jerry's company, however strange his manner of
42
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B. Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 uer Semestre)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
company could be: first he is always in erection and
whatever it may be , a bed , a cockroach , a carpet ,
will attack him (Jerry) whenever he cornes home
a street corner , a wisp of smoke, ev en to
never when he goes out. Theirs is a complex love
pornographie playing cards (page175) but he has
and hate relationship. First Jerry has decided to
excluded the mirror that gives you back a reflexion
befriend the dog by offering him hamburgers; that
ofyourself, he dismisses the roll onoilet paper too.
failed; then he made up his mind to kill him, feeding
The problem is having something to attach oneself
him hamburger with rat-poison. That too failed but
too, something to care for, love, something that
the dog has been critically ill for a few days. When
could give meaning to one's existence. We have to
he recovered , there has been a change in their
learn to care for things in order to learn to care for
relationship : the trauma ofthe poisoning has brought
people:
about a modus vivendi: the dog no longer attacks
Jerry! but just stands looking at him , long ... with
It's just ... it's just that [Jerry is abnormally
sadness and suspicion . We may wonder why that
tense now] ...it's just that you can't deal with
monster of dog- would single out Jerry for his
people, you have to make a start somewhere.
erection and his attacks. Is aIl this a way to connect
With ANIMALS [.... ] A person has to have
with him and break his own loneliness? The modus
sorne way of dealing with SOMETHING. If
vivendi they have come to is a sad one because made
not with people. SOMETHING [... ] with
up of loneliness. But the incidents have created
love, with vomiting, with crying, with fury
friendship of a sort between Jerry and the dog and
[... ] with making money, with yoUf body
now Jerry cares for, even loves the dog, as he
which is an act oflove, with howling because
confesses:
you're alive [... ],with God, How about that?
WITH GOD WHO IS A COLOURED
The beast was there ... looking at me ... .1
QUEEN WHO WEARS A KIMONO AND
looked at him; he looked at me ... 1 think
PLUCKS HIS EYEBROWS! WHO IS
... 1 think. We staya long time that way ...
WOMAN
WHO
CRIES
WITH
still, stone-statue ...just looking at one
DETERMINATIONBEHIND
HER
another ....But during that twenty seconds
CLOSED DOOR ... With God who l'm told
or two hours that we looked at each other's
turned his back on the whole sorne time ago
face, we made a contact. Now, here is what
... with sorne day, with people [Jerry sighs
1had wanted to happen: 1 love the dog now
the next word heavily] People.(page 175)
and 1 wanted him to love me (page174).
Metaphysical anguish if, as Jerry recalls Nietzsche's
Then Jerry sums up, in a very dramatic way, the
dictum that God is dead which makes aIl of us
existential problem ofman:
orphans in a lonely world and life a kind of prison
from \\\\ hich escape is impossible un1ess we opt out,
1had tried to love, and 1had tried to kill and
as Jerry does here in the play, by impaling himself
both had been unsuccessful by themselves. 1
on his knife held out defensively by Peter. In this
hoped ... and 1 don't really know why 1
Godless world, we need to support each other and
expected the dog to understand anything,
even- absurd as it may sound - pray for one another.
much less my motivations ... 1 hoped that
ln answer to the landlady's invitation to pray for her
the dog would understand. (page175)
dog, Jerry declares:
Jerry doesn't know anything about the dog's
Madam 1 have myself to pray for, the
relationship to the other tenants but that doesn't
co10ured queen, the Puerto Rican family, the
matter. His experience is illuminating for us: it shows
person in the front room who l've never seen,
us the lonely world of both man and dog*.
the woman who cries deliberately behind her
Albee takes us a little further into his metaphysical
closed door, and the rest ofthe people in aIl
considerations: we have to relate, ifwe can't relate
rooming houses everywhere (page 173).
to people , then we should relate to something ,
As humans. we need each other, we need each
,. Dog is just God read backward and Jerry would be talking about God
other's sympathy -why not empathy -we need to
later on; This is an oblique way' to introduce metaphysics into The Zoo Story,
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1"r Semestre)
43

Sciences sociales et humaines
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
establish this chain ofsolidarity 1 and concern. Peter
man handle his destiny? The alternatives are
- though we must have associated his name with
not easy, dying on dragging oneself along?
the mineraI kingdom, not vegetable-is aware ofthat
need for love alone has the power to link us together
Jerry has been going through the gruelling
into a human family; love and concern we need to
experience ofthe absurdity oflife and feels the need
care for one another but in a world gone dead on us
to come to its conclusion even if it's not the right
when does love come in*? What are the chances of
conclusion, it is his:
it being understood without what Jerry has called
It's one of those things a person has to do:
"teaching emotion". As it is, in our daily life of
sometimes a person has to go a very long
indifference to each other:
distance out ofhis way to come back a short
distance correctly. (page 164)
We neither love nor hurt because we do not
He has repeated this sentence twice (page 170) this
try to reach each other. And was trying to
time in connection with the dig and it functions, as a
feed the dog an act of love? And, perhaps
preamble to his story: "The story of Jerry and the
was the dog's attempt to bite me not an act
Dog" If Jerry has repeated that same sentence word
oflove? Ifwe can misunderstand, weIl then,
for word in such a short time, it only means that he
why have we invented the world love in the
has been reflecting on it and has made it the
tirst place? (Page 176)
conclusion of his life experience, an obsession
almost. He has been to the zoo; he has seen the
The pessimist calls Death the cure-aIl. In a positive
animaIs behind the bars, and people 100king at them,
attitude to life, love should be the cure-aIl .However,
behind the bars too: we are ail behind bars. The zoo
we are not sure we know how best to express our
image is a striking poetic image of man's 2 plight;
love with the certainly of being understood. In this
imprisoned in our daily cares, sharing nothing with
world gone dead where we are alllike zombies, what
our fellow men except on the surface, we are just
matters is that personal revelation as ifby intuition,
like these animaIs in their cage, which image Jerry
of the need for real incommunicable contact. Peter
has called "this humiliating excuse for ajail" (page
has understood Jerry's need to communicate with
175). Taking one's own life instead of plodding
somebody even if the latter is misusing that good
forlornly in a lonely world is the solution to our
will and generosity:
misery, according to Jerry-Albee. Writing about The
l've put up with you long enough. l've
American Dream in the Preface to the play (May
listened to you because you seemed ... weIl
24, 1961) Albee had this to say:
because 1 thought you wanted to talk to
Every honest work is a personal, private
somebody. (Page 180)
YowL a statement of one individual's
pleasure or pain; but 1 hope that The
Talking, that is talking sense but apparently there
American Dream is something more than
has been little or no real communication - formaI
that. 1 hope that it transcends the personal
communication we mean and in the breakdown of
and the private and has something to do with
communication, this chaos, this lack of order, we
the anguish of us aIl (page 54).
have the formaI expression of the theatre drama of
ln Listening one ofhis characters said:
the absurdo Martin Esslin puts it this way in the
We don't have to live, you know, unless we
Introduction to Absurd Drama.
wish to; the greatest sin, no matter what they
tell you, the greatest sin in living is doing it
For many intelligent and sensitive human
badly- stupidly, or as if you weren't really
beings the world ofthe mid twentieth century
al ive, or wickedly; taking it in your own
has lost meaning and has simply ceased to
hands, taking your life in your own two hands
make sense ....Suddenly man sees himself
may be the one the one thing you'll ever do
faced with a universe that is both frightening
in the whole stretch that matters.
and illogical-in a word absurd (page 13).
ln such an absurd world where there is more
'* "L'absurde", according 10 Albert Camus. "ne délivre pas. il lie"
suffering, both physical and spiritual, where
2 *In Modern America Drama : Essays in Crificism. Edited SY William
Taylor. 1968
man senses he is deserted by God. how does
44
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (ter Semestre)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -_ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
Jerry then had decided to put an end to his senseless
And then he sets about telling Peter his move
life. In a world without God, what do we have to
from the zoo. In fact. ifs not a zoo story but
fear? Nothing. But dying alone, committing suicide
a pilgrim's deliberate progress to death:
in a roominghouse behind a closed doar or crying
Jerry: 1 think this is what happened at the
softly in one's room is no statement of the agony of
zoo. 1think .... [ think that while 1was at the
living. But doing it the way Jerry did it at the hand
zoo 1 decided that 1 would walk north
ofPeter, with Peter as a witness, is an act ofcreation,
....northerly, rather
Until 1found you .....
the "teaching emotion" that would create a new
Or somebody
and 1 decided th<ll l
Peter suddenly shocked out ofhis minerallvegetable
would talk to you
1would tell you thing ...
life and powerfully projected into the full awareness
..... And that 1 would talk to you
of spiritual anguish. The ticking episode has served
would .... Page 184)
to bring out Peter's latent homosexuality but the
Which words echo Jeremiah's?
fight for the bench has brought out the animal in
him Max Halperon writes about Peter and Jerry in
CalI unto me, and 1 will answer thee, and
"What Happens in Who'sAfraid ....?*"
show thee l great and mighty things , which
But in his sojoum among society's outcasts
thou knowest not"(Jer 33;3) Jerry has come
in society's underworld, Jerry has leamed
and talked to Peter, has reached out to him
something Perry does not know, or has
and taught him . Now nevermore will Peter
forgotten. For "sometimes", according to
be the same man or faU back into his
Jerry, "a person has to go a very long distance
vegetable-mineral life, he has attained to
out ofhis way to come back a short distance
"animal" life, a life of spiritual unrest and
correctly.
anguish
Jerry has come back to an understanding of
Jerry: And Peter, 1'11 tell you something now.
man's feraI nature, his baser instincts, as we
You're not really a vegetable; ifs aIl right.
have been taught to calI them. and Jerry
You' re an animal. You' re an animal too (page
knows that any genuine communication any
184).
real contact requires an appeal do the lower
as weIl as the upper being ....So Jerry can
Jerry had evidently planned his death but he didn't
make contact only by deliberately awakening
want it to go unnoticed. He wanted it to be a
the slumbering animal in Peter pushing him,
STATEMENT, his yowl. He had told Peter that he
insulting him, forcing him to pick up a knife
would see "his" face in the papers or on TV. Whose
in self defence ....Between the two animaIs
face if not his own but better than that, his story is
contact has been established unforgettably.
one ofthe staples of The Reader sDigest "The Most
The beast in Peter, and by implication, the
Unforgettable Character l've ever met (page 176).
carefully "penned" "animaIs" in society at
That amazing story ofthe dog applies metaphysically
large, can no longer be disowned.(pages 130-
to himself for never will Peter forget that aftemoon,
131)
the fight for the bench nor will he ever forget Jerry.
But Albee's solution is too pessimistic. Ifs
We strongly disagree with this interpretation of
not because life is absurd that we should opt out in
Peter's awakening: ifs not the baser nature in Peter
a in a cowardly way. Beckett's two characters have
that has been awakened but the higher part, the
aIl the reasons in the world to give up; yet, they do
feeling and thinking part. The vegetable-mineral
not, however strong the temptation
part, in Peter should give way to the thinking-feeling:
Estragon: Why don't we hang ourselves? (Page 93)
Vladimir: We'll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause)
Jerry: You don't even know what you're
Unless Godot cornes.
saying, do you? This is probably the first time
Estragon: And ifhe cornes?
in your life you've had anything more trying
Vladimir: We'Il be saved.
to face than changing your cafs toilet box.
Vladimir: WeIl shall we go?
Stupid! Don't you have any idea; not even
the slightest, what other people need? (Page
182)
1 Hermann HESSE. Steppenwo/f, Pengllin Modern C/assics.1972.
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1 er Semestre)
45

Sciences sociales et humaines
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Estragon: Yeso let's go. (They do no! move) (Page
94)
And about his records. Hermann Hesse had this ton
Yes indeed. why move when there's nowhere to go?
say:
The ending though symbolically pregnant since it is
to be construed as the awakening of Peter to spiritual
1 see them as a document of the times. for
anguish sounds too pessimistic nonetheless ~f .we
Haller's sickness of the sou!' as 1now know
compare it to Krapp 's decision to go on ilvmg
is not the eccentricity of a single individual
whatever the suffering and the loneliness.
but the sickness ofthe times themselves. the
neurosis of that generation to which Haller
Hermann Hesse, writing about his character
(Steppenwolf) belongs, a sickness it seems
Steppenwolf* in the novel ofthat title declared:
that by no means attacks the weak and
worthless onlv but rather those who are
But 1 would be happy ifmany ofthem (his
strongest in ~pirit and richest in gifts
readers). were to realize that the story of
..... They are an attempt to present the
Steppenwolf pictures a disease and crisis but
sickness itselfin actual manifestation. They
not one leading to death and destruction,
mean, literally a journey through hell,
on the contrary : to healing. (Page 6)
sometimes fearful, sometimes courageous
joumey through chaos of a world whose
Steppenwolf, contrary to Jerry, would go on
souls dwell in darkness, ajourney undertaken
living his spiritual misery. As he tells us himself:
with determination to go through hell from
one end to the other. to give battle to chaos
1 knew that aIl the hundred thousand
and to bear the evil to the full. (Preface 27-
pieces oflife's game were in my pocket.
28)
A glimpse of its meaning had stirred my
reason and J was determined to begin the
Suck is the plight of modem man in an absurd world
and such is the plight ofJerry who committed suicide
game afresh. 1would sample its tortures
in protest, again, contraryto Steppenwolfas contrary
once more and shudder again at its
to Estragon and Vladimir and more importantly to
senselessness. 1would traverse not once
Sisyphus. and Everyman who do not.
more, but often, the hell of my inner
Apart from the metaphysical considerations. Albee
being. (Pages 252-253)
has lightly touched on the homosexual strains in his
characters. both Jerry who avowed his past
As a matter of fact Jerry was another
homoscxual relations and Peter who suddenly
Steppenwolf to sorne extent. Here is what the
discovercd his through the tickling episode with his
narrator says about the latter in the Preface to the
hysterical laughter, false to voice and particularly
book; so, many are the affinities between the two
these outbursts:
men:
Sorne years ago the Steppenwolf, who was
Peter: Stop, stop. Ohhhh no, no, oh, ha, ha.
then approaching fi fty called on my aunt to
ha. ha what? What'? Oh my
inquire for a fumished room .He lived by
...................... Ah. 1,,1. )'J. '[he ....... Oh,
himselfvery quietly and a good many chance
ha, ha well ... .J had my won zoo their for a
encounters on the stairs and in the passage -
moment with ... hee, hee, the parakcets
we should have remained practically
getting dinner ready , and the, ha .ha .....
unacquainted . For he was not a sociable man
............ .Yes, yes, by a11 means; tell me
as a matter of fact he was unsociable to a
what happened at the zoo. Oh my. 1 don't
degree 1 have never before experienced in
know what happened to me. (page 178)
anybody ... .J certainly did not know how
deep the loneliness was into which his life
Alvin B. Kemam commenting on the homosexuality
drifted ... and how consciously he accepted
of the characters wrote this:
this loneliness as his destiny. (Preface pages
From another perspective, Jerry's death is
7-8)
46
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-20060" Semestre)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
erotic. Jerry withdrew from "normal" sex
Le Zoo Story a pu être jugé comme une étude
when he rejected conformist social goals and
de schizophrénie et Jerry est sans doute un
it seems mixed up in his mind with the other
schizophrène.
"normal" activities he despises. Occasional
sordid contacts with women and dai ly
encounters with his obscure landlady
CONCLUSION
(another mammy) reinforce his queasiness.
Peter's domesticated heterosexuality is part
Whichever way we consider The Zoo Story, it
of what affronts Jerry, and as he throws
remains a challenging play, a representation of our
himself onto the blade in Peter's hands, he
human condition. "To be or not to be" or in Sartrean
spears himself on erect sex terrifying and
terms "L'Etre et le Néant". We have to stand up and
fascinating because institutional. The irony
take up the challenge of our daily misery. As a final
is that Peter's way of life has scarcely
note, let's listen to Camus in Caligula* "
prepared him to perform this duty. and he
would not have held the blade out if Jerry
"Les homes meurent et ils ne son pas heureux".
had not assaulted the root of his honour:
property rights. Jerry is the more capable
And in L'Aveu*
male in the real encounter, he plays the acti ve
partner.
"Je dis que l'homme est un écartelé. Et pas
seulement un écartelé, un crucifié. Je dis que
This may account for the fact that Peter held this
les membres sont étirés vers les quatre hori-
phallic symbol defensively:
zons. centre déchiré est le cœur même de la
(stage direction page 47 " He holds the kn({e with
création".
ajirm arm , butfar infront ofhim, not to attack but
to defènd')

If God is dead as Zarathustra c1aims. then man
Allan Lewis, on his part, dec1ared this:
inherits the awesome responsibility of the
Universe with its existential and Pascalian
With Albee, the knife may represent a
anguish.
macabre love affair of latent homosexual
relations, but it is also the meeting of two
separate worlds in the hearts of a modem
society, held together at the point of a
switchblade.
The Zoo Storv has been interpreted by sorne as
Christian play with Jerry in the role ofJesus Christ.
His suicide has been viewed as Christ's sacrifice, in
order to redeem the damned. Allan Lewis remarks:
"Jerry cornes close to religious peace" and he quotes
this passage to back up his c1aim: "1 came unto you
and you have comforted me dear Peter". Is this a
reminiscence of Apocalypse (Revelation) 3 :20
"Behold. 1 stand at the door, and knock, if any man
hear my voice and open the door 1 will come in to
him, and will sup with him, and he with him and he
with me".
Sorne may reject this Christian construction of the
play and 1consider it in terms of psychology, as a
study in schizophrenia. That is the point ofview put
forward by Lilian Kerjan:
1 *Quoted by Emmanuel Jacquart in Le Théâtre de dérision.
Paris Idées/Gallimard. 1974, page 83
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (lrr Semestre)
47

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Sciences sociales et humaines
1 - BIBLIOGRAPHY
13. Paolucci,Anne, 1972. "From Tension to Tonie:
the plays of Edward Albee".
ITopl Selected Bibliography
Carbondale: Southem Illinois UP,
1. Armacher, Richard (E.), 1969. Edward Alhee.
NY; Twayne Publishers, PS 3551 L25257
14. Post, Robert (M.). "Salvation or damnation?
Death in the plays of Edward Albee:'
2. Bennett, Robert (B.) "Tragic Vision in The Zoo
American Drama 2.2 (Sprg 1993):
Story." Modem Drama 20: 55-66.
32-49.
3. Bigsby, (c. W.), 1969. E. Albee. Edinburgh:
15. Roudane, Matthew (C.). "Communication as
Oliver & Boyd. PS3551.L25 Z58
therapy in the Theater of Edward Albee.
Journal (~fEvolutio17ury Psychology
4. - , ed. Edward Alhee: a Collection of Critical
6.3/4 (Aug 1985): 302 - 14.
Essays. Eng1ewood Cliffs. N.J: Prentice -
HalL 1975.PS3551 L25 Z583
16. Roudane, Matthew, (C.), 1987. Understanding
EdwardAlbee. Columbia: U of South
5. B1oom, Harold.1987. ed. Edward Albee. NY:
Carolina P.
Chelsea.
17. Roudane, Matthew (C.). 1990. Who~' Afraid
6. Cobn, Ruby, 1969. EdwardAlbee. Minneapolis:
of Virginia Woolf! : Necessary Fictions.
.
U of Minnesota P. PS3551 L25 Z6
Terrifj;ing Realities. Boston: Twavne
Publishers. PS3551.L25 W437.

7. Gabbard, Lucina, ( P.). "At the Zoo: From
O'Neil to Albee." Modern Drama 19:
18. Rutenberg, Michael, (E.), 1969. Edward
365 - 74
Albee: Playwright in Protest. NY: DBS
Publications.
8. Geis, Deborah (R.). "Staging Hypereloquence:
Edward Albee and the Monoligic Voice"
19. Solomon, Rakesb. " Text, Subtext. and
American Drama 2.2 (Sprg
Performance; Edward Albee on Directing Who's
1993): 1-11.
Afraid ofVirginia woolf?" Theatre
Survey 34.2 (Nov 1993): 95-110.
9. Giantvalley, Scott, 1973. Edward Alhee. NY:
UNGAR, PS3551 L 25 Z69
20. Solomon, Rakesh, (H.). '"Crafting Script into
Performance: Edward Albee: in
10. Kolin, Phillip C. J. Madison Davis, 1986. ed.
Rehearsal." American Drama 2.2
Critical Essays on Edward Alhee. Boston:
(Sprg 1993): 76-99
Hall.
21. Wallace, Robert ,(S.). "The Zoo Story: Albee's
Il. Luere, Jeane. "Terror and Violence in Edward
Attack on Fiction." Modern Dramal6:
Albee? From Who s A,fraid of Virginia
49-54.
Woo~f! To Marriage Play." South
Central Review 7.1 (Sprg 1990): 50-58.
22. Wasserman, Julian, (N.), and al., 1983. Eds.
Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays.
12. Nilan, Mary (M.) "Albee's The Zoo Story:
Houston: Univ of St Thomas.
Alienated Man and The Nature of Love."
Modern Drama 16: 55 - 59 "on
23. Wilson, Robert, (A.) "Edward Albee: A
Edward Albee." American Drama 2.2 (Sprg
Bibliographical Checklist". American Book
1993).
Collector 4.2 (Mar/April 1983): 37-44.
48
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (1" Semestre)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sciences sociales et humaines
MLA Style citation of this Web page.
Reuben, Paul. "Chapter 8: American Drama -
Edward Albee." PAL: Perspectives in American
Litterature - A Research and Reference guide.
URL :htto !W\\y\\\\.cslIstan.l:'du/engl islvreuben/pal
chnp8:alhedltml (pprovide page date or date of
your login).
Revue du CAMES - Nouvelle Série B, Vol. 007 N° 1-2006 (l or Semestre)
49