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Symbolism and Naturalism in Edward Albee’s the Zoo Story

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    Symbolism and Naturalism in Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story Author(s): Rose A. Zimbardo Reviewed work(s): Source: Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Apr. , 1962), pp. 10-17 Published by: Hofstra University Stable URL: http://www. jstor. org/stable/440743 . Accessed: 03/02/2013 22:44 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www. jstor. org/page/info/about/policies/terms. jsp .

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    This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions SYMBOLISM AND NATURALISM IN EDWARD ALBEE’S THE ZOO STORY ROSE A. ZIMBARDO The acclaim, both popular and his theme. Somewhat startlingis critical,which has greeted Albee’s the realizationthatAlbee’s are traThe Zoo Storyleads one to specu- ditional Christian symbolswhich, late upon the directionAmerican despite their modern dress,retain drama is likely to take in the theiroriginalsignificance-or, more future.

    Concern with idea, rather precisely, expresstheiroriginal sigthan characteror plot, is not new nificancein modernterms. The rein the Americantheatre, nor is the lationshipbetweentraditionalsymuse of symbolism the realization bol and naturalisticdialogue, situfor of idea. There is, however,about ation and setting however, never is, Americanplays whichemploysynm-forced,as it so often is in, say, a bolism-from O’Neill to Williams Williams play. Rather symbolism -a strong suggestionof the gim- is part of the very fabric of the mick.

    Because American play- play functioning within,as well as have been self-conscious in enlarging,its surfacemeaning. wrights On the simplestlevel The Zoo employing symbols,their symbolism is almost always embarrassing- Story is concerned with human ly obvious. It calls attentionto it- isolation. The world is a zoo “with selfand existsas a kind of scaffold- everyone separated by bars from ing which the audience feels the everyoneelse, the animals for the should eitherhave built most part from each other, and playwright over or removed.

    For example, always the people from the aniO’Neill’s symbolistic drama, which mals” (49); that is, men are not has, of course, shaped all later only separated from each other, American drama, directsattention but from their own basic animal towardthesymbolas symbolrather natures (as Peter, one of “the than upon a whole dramaticstruc- people” is, until the end of the ture within which symbolismop- play, separated fromhis own anierates. The audience must identify mal nature). the symbolsand their equivalents The play opens upon Peter,who to work out the play’s meaning. is seated on a bench in the park.

    As Symbol and meaning are, there- Albee tells us in his descriptionof fore,external to the play’s design. the dramatis personae, Peter is Mourning Becomes Electra pro- “neither fat nor gaunt, neither vides an excellentexample. handsome nor homely. ” He is, in What marks The Zoo Storyas a fact,in no way distinctive. Peter is new developmentof our drama is the modernversion, middle-class in thewayin whichAlbee blends sym- stereotype, Everyman. He reads of bolism with naturalism to realize the “right” books, lives on the 10 This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions s side of the park,has the own physicality, furiousand “right” that should of and frightened a stranger averagenumber children, the “right”MadisonAvenuejob. tryto exposeit. ad in His is the New Yorker life to Peter, spiteof himAlthough which most middle-class in citizens, self,becomesinterested Jerry’s or ashe consciously unconsciously, confessions, is embarrassed by into candor. He would much pire. He blendsperfectly the Jerry’s of to to emptiness the prefer steertheconversation brightly-packaged modern landscape. The “bars” thesafe,if shallow, waters conof his Peterfrom own ventionalsmall talk.

    He triesto which separate otherpeople are restrict natureand from himself talk about the to the materialgoods and the pre- weatheror books. And -theonly ideas with which he timeduringthe conversation fabricated that surrounds himself. has himself he feels comfortable, He indeed exconstructed isolation. pansive, whenhe launchesinto his is carefully Peterwould prefer not to talk a “canned”evaluation thecomof with but of Jerry is toopoliteand too parativemerits Marquandand afraid of anyone’sbad opinion, Baudelaire, which to Jerry, his disto even Jerry’s, ignorehim.

    Once may,cuts shortand dismisses as he disturbsPeter engagedin conversation, tries pretentious. Jerry to avoid talking aboutanysubject because cannot he be into easily fit that has real relevance, anything any of Peter’s neatly labelled thathas roots the penetrating care- pigeonholes. maskwhich pre- Peter-Oh, livein theVillage he fully prepared you sents to the world,and even to (this seems to enlighten himself. WhenJerry, to trying esPeter) tablish some real contact with Jerry-No,I don’t .. im Peter-(almostpouting) Oh, I Peter, questions abouthishavhe ing morechildren, withdraws thought you lived in the furious from conversation, the that Village. have spotted chink Jerry-What a wereyou -trying to Jerry might in his armor. do? Make sense out of Jerry-And you’renot going to things, bringorder? The have any more kids, are old pigeonhole bit? (25) is His Peter, then, self-isolated. life you? No. No of things Peter-(a bit distantly) and prejudicesprotects more. (Then back and him fromhimself and fromthe no irksome) Why did you world.

    While it provides gutHow wouldyou pleasures, neither does it allowfor saythat? knowthat? gut-pain. Peter’s is a kind’ of stoicism. But while Jerry-The way you crossyour middle-class raises a man legs perhaps; somethinggenuine stoicism in thevoice. maybe Or I’m% above pleasure and pain, this Is just guessing. It your middle-class variety protectsby wife? him anaesthesizing in thecommonPeter-(furious)That’s none of place. Do While Peteris one of the “peoyourbusiness. youunderstand? (18) from anithe ple” whois separated whohardly Peter, his and is acknowledges mal in himself others, Jerry 11

    This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions an animal (he knows own na- siders parkbenchwhich has his the he his. from appropriated Both Peterand separation ture) who fights theotheranimals. In parthis iso- thedog are willingto fight the to lationis forced upon him. But in death any invaderof theirterriit largemeasure growsout of his tories. He need for-truth. is determined We cannotbuy love or undernor real to discover essential the natureof standing, can we establish the human condition. Therefore, contactby any easy means.

    Jerry of himself goods,things, bribes the dog with hamburgers he strips He obvious relationships. has a but thisgainshimonlythetactical a of box strong without lock,picture advantage a fewextraminutes and por- to raceup thestairs frames before dog the pictures, without. him. playingcards that re- attacks nographic between Poor bastard,he neverlearned that the mind himofthedifference loveand sexual need. Deprivedof moment tookto smilebeforehe went he the usual family he for relationships, of me gave me timeenoughto get out refuseseither to sentimentalize range. But therehe was, malevolence waiting. 39) them toconsole or himself what withan erection for he is withcomforting with deadly acThe dog reflects justifications of built upon memories an un- curacyall of the qualities which findsin the animalsof his Jerry happychildhood. The same urge for truththat own species (his parents, infor enables Jerryto know himself stance,or the landlady): hatred, communication between makes him lust, smiling exploitation,and and the otheranimalsalmostim- treachery. and Jerry thedog stand for abouthuman in antithetical relationto one anpossible, thetruth that recognizes other.

    They are a pair of armed relationships Jerry is thatmenare islandsirrevocablyenemies each otherup, waitsizing one another. Contact ing to springor to outmaneuver cut offfrom timeto timemade,but al- one another. Theirs is a perfect is from modelofmost human wayswithgreatpain and difficulty relationships, withanyassurance and never that as Jerry them. Anysuperficial sees it can be sustained. Jerrytells attempt conciliation at lulls merely Peterwhat he has learnedabout fora moment enmity the whichis human relationsin his tale of causedby theirisolation and fear. nd To establishcontactone must Jerry The Dog. one another, reachbelowthesurface thelevel to from Beingcut off we fear, and fearing, hatewith ofpainand pleasure, theanimal we to an unreasoning hatred creature core. “I have learned,” any Jerry says, whothreatens invadethatlittle “that neither to kindness cruelty, or area of theworldthatprovides us independent each othercreates of with security. The dog attacks any effect and beyondthemselves; tries Jerry when only Jerry toenter I have learnedthatthe two comthe house, “whenever came in; bined,together, the same time I at but neverwhenI wentout….

    I are the teachingemotion. “One couldpackup and livein thestreet mustreach into the realmwhere forall the dog cared. ” (37) The emotions themselves notsharpare the exBut, dogconsiders househis domain ly differentiated. as Jerry laterin theplay, con- plains, eventheflash understandof justas Peter, 12 This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Jerry the parakeets dinhas gained fromhis contactwith getting conner ready. … Oh my, I to thedog in trying establish don’t know what hapPeter that Peter. ith tact Realizing cannotbe drawnout of his tough penedto me. (48) emoshell with talk, thatwordswhen The teaching, pleasure-pain Peter’ssurface, tionhas enabledPeterto see cleardo -they penetrate the merelycause him to throwup ly fora briefmoment emptito a barriers contact, further cats, Jerry nessofhis life, lifein which are triesto touchPeter beneaththis children, wife,and parakeets He interchangeable surface. because theyare consciously preserved Peter. Tickling, all merely it propswhosefunction beginsby tickling and experience, is to disguise nothingness isobeing a pleasure-pain theory lation.

    Jerry’s implements perfectly involves After has established first emotion this he thattheteaching It combined. contact,which is comparableto and cruelty kindness elicit a primitive, the contact had achievedwith he must perforce was to The effect animal response. upon thedog in thatitspurpose and enlighten, is of Peter thetickling startling goadsPeterintoa Jerry In Peterto fight for It immediate. enableshim,forthe fight. forcing is first time,to relax his grip upon theparkbench, Jerry onceagain life challenging to Peter’sattachment -theshield that his “perfect” thatare in themmaterialthings provides. alue to him. Peter Peter-Oh hee,hee, hee. I must selveswithout go. I . .-. hee, hee, hee. respondsto the invasionof his After stop,stop,hee, “property” thesameferocity with all, hee, hee, after all the that the dog has shown. Peter is will be getting againforced Jerry respond at to parakeets by dinner ready soon. And the animal level, like a savage the cats are settingthe fighting a bone. Finally, for Jerry table. Stop,stop.. , and makes Peter kill him. Peter,we we’re can neveragain exist on assume, having .. Peter the surface level,can neveragain (Jerry stops -tickling of avoid contactwith himself. ut the combination And and his own Jerry at lastestablished conthe tickling a has mad whimsyhas Peter tact that must endure,for Peter be a laughing almost hysteri-will never able to forget man con- he has killed. cally. As his laughter then tinues, that subsides, Jerry It is withinthe naturalism 13 ing that can resultfromsuch a thatthe contact givesno assurance can endureformorethan contact an instant. “And whatis gainedis loss. And whathasbeen theresult; a thedog and I haveattained commoreof a bargain, really. promise: love nor hurtbecause We neither to we do nottry reacheachother. he appliestheknowledge him witha curiwatches ous, fixed smile. ) Petergoes on laughing and Jerry him that something reminds has happenedat the zoo about which Peteris curious. Peter-Ahha, ha, the what? Oh, yes,the zoo. Well, I had my own zoo therefora momentwith.. hee, hee, This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions we have been discussing that the play’s symbolism operates. The are symbols large and are, as I said earlier, traditional Christian symbols.

    There is Jerry,or Jesus, a outcast whose purthirty-year-old pose is to establish contact “with God who is a colored queen who wears a kimono and plucks his eyebrows,who is a woman who cries with determination behind her closed door … with God, who I’m told, turned his back on the whole thing some time ago. ” And there is Peter, St. Peter, an … average worldlingwho is stripped or by the irresistible Jerry his materialgoods and led towarda revelation of truth. So carefullyconand maintainedis the symstructed bolic pattern that it skirts being it allegory.

    What preserves as symbol is that its functionin the naturalisticdesignof the play is never lost. Let us examine the symbolic pattern more closely and observe its relation to the patternof meaning we have discussed. Jerry,when we meet him, has lived for a short time in a rooming house on the West Side. The inhabitantsof the rooming house are a Negro homosexual, a Puerto Rican family,and a woman who cries incessantly. They are, in effect,the outcasts,the doomed, the “least of these. ” The gate keepers (the word is Jerry’s)of the rooming house are a foul woman and a dog, “a black monsterof a beast: an oversized head, tiny, tiny ears and eyes. … The dog is black, all black except for the bloodshot eyes. ” (36) The description immediately identifies the dog as Cerebus, the monster, all black withflaming eyes,who guards Hell. The drunken,lewd woman whose for affection the dog is almost ma- addsa further ternal dimension to the allusionforwe recognize the pair as Milton’sSin and Death. The symbol againreinforced is and expanded when Jerry throws poisonedmeat to the dog in his for effort gain safepassage, this to is an unmistakable allusionto the myth in which Theseus throws to to honey-cakes Cerebus drugged to gain entrance the Underworld.

    The West Side roominghouse, is then, Hell andJerry’s adventures the withthedog symbolize mythical hero’s or God’s descentinto Hell. We see hereAlbee’smethod old He of symbolism. chooses symwiththem wealth a bols,that carry of meaningbut that yet do no violence thenaturalistic to surface of his play. To go on to theidentification of the as Jerry Jesus-when landlady askshim to prayforhersickdog, “Madam,I havemyJerry replies, the selfto prayfor, colored queen, the the PuertoRican family, person whomI have neverseen,the whocries behindtheclosed women of door,and therest thepeoplein all the ooming houses everyMessiah where. ” This modernized himselfwith the firstidentifies and and theafflicted then outcasts for assumes responsibility them. From timeto timeAlbee gives the audience broad clues to his symbolic equivalentsso that his cannotbe mistaken. For meaning is example,whenJerry revealing to Peterthe natureof the human condition meansof theparable by ofthedog (for is that, indeed, what the Tale of Jerry the Dog is, and i parable), he uses, in broad a “And parody, Biblical locution, was It came-topass thatthe-beast ill. Or again,after deathly JerryHell (thatis, Jesushas harrowed 14 This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions terms. into the rooming simplest But, like the Gosgainedentrance it is rejectedby Everyman house and assumedresponsibility pels, not to understand, forits inmates)and is readyfor who pretends and who thejob of salvation, must he come who pleads confusion, flees from responsibility the to Peterby a verycuriousroute. finally thatunderstanding woulddemand. . I tookthe subwaydown to the VilJerry’s truthcannotbe conveyed lage so 1 could walkall the wayup Fifth Avenueto thezoo. It’s one of thosethings in words. In ticklingPeter and causing a personhas to do; sometimes person a has to comea verylong distance out of him fora secondto lose his grip, his way to come back a shortdistance to the of penetrate falsity his life, (25) correctly. is, Jerry In effect, symbolically Peter hisworldly of The journey downtown up, at stripping goods anld and causinghim to “follow” him. ies theend of which thesalvation of a man is, of course,Christ’s Once Peterhas, evenwhimsically, the of intoHell and Resurrectionquestioned “happiness” havdescent life,theright which necessary are family, before Re- ing theright the theright he the pets, has taken first can demption begin. his He Peter refusesJerry-Jesus’ mes- stepstoward salvation. has taken the that stepina journey it sagewhen appearsin theparable will lead first therealization him to of of thedog. He first redeliberately what it is like to be sists understanding, essentially then he pretendsthathe has not understood,human and to be an outcast. f and finally covershis ears to Finally,realizingthe futility he to the truth thathas been re- trying reachPeterwithwords, escape of realizingtoo the fragility the vealedto him. vision truth of thathas flashed become Peter, fore Peter’s mind during the Jerry-Oh, on now, tellmewhatyouthink. dies for Peter. He tickling, Jerry Peter-(numb) I .. . I don’tun- diesto savePeter’s soulfrom death derstand what.. . I don’t by starvation. Peterwill spiritual think … (Now almost be forced I deathto know byJerry’s tearfully) Why did you himself and to feel kinshipwith tellme all of this? he outcastsfor whomJerry has not? Jerry-Why prayed. Peter-I DON’T UNDERIn the dialogue of the death STAND. sceneAlbee again makeshis allubut Jerry(Furious, whispering) sionsvery broad. In theinstant beThat’s a lie. foreJerry decidesto impalehimPeter-No, it’snot. no, selfupon theknife there a is Jerry(Quietly) I tried to ex- gestionof his momentary sugindeciplain to you as I went sion,followed acceptance his of by it along. I went slowly; all fatewhich declares a spoken in he has to do withresolution. Peter-I DON’T WANT TO Peter-I’ll give you one last HEAR ANY MORE. 44, chanceto get out of here 45) and leave me alone. like theGospels, is Jerry’s parable, with (He holdstheknife in a firmhand but far in spokenslowlyand framed the 15 This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions gins to weep. ) Oh my tack,but to defend. ) God, Oh myGod. Jerry(His eyes still closed,he Jerry(Sighsheavily) So be it. shakes his head and (59) speaks: a combination of This decisionto acceptdeath for scornful mimicry and and man’ssalvation, withitsair of the Oh supplication. ) … my culmination a foreordained of pat… God. 62) scene at tern,is the modernized The allusionis perfectly sustained Gethsemane. Again the somewhat and in themouth a skillful of actor archaic locutionstrengthens althe Peter’s repetitionof the phrase lusion. infinite variety, expressing In the death scene itselfthe al- contains of This degrees awareness. lusion is so broad that it becomes varying Crucifixion scene is also underironic. Peter’s calling “Oh, my God” operatesso well on both scored by Peter’s betrayalwhen, hisbookand leaving dythe symbolisticand naturalistic level taking deniesthat he, thattheone level becomesan ironic ing Jerry, in effect, “he knowsthe man. commentary upon the other. The in What Albee has written The wordsare, of course,thevery words Zoo Storyis a modernMorality we feel we would utter were we The themeis the centuries caught in so horrible a situation, play. old one of human isolationand so that they are naturalistically sacrifice. in Man through “true” and yet, ironically,on the salvation his naturalstate is alone, a prislevel symbolistic it is God,theGod oner of Self. If he succumbsto he has slain, whom Peter is adfear he enforces isolationin his dressing. it. hathe is denying Pretending Peter-OhmyGod, Oh myGod, not alone, he surrounds himself Oh myGod. and ideas thatbolster withthings is but now the barrierbetweenhimselfand Jerry(Jerry dying, his expressionseems to all other creatures. good man The Once he stock himself. of takes re- first change. His features his reallax, and while his voice has understood condition, and the limitaized his animality varies, sometimes wrenched with pain, for tionsimposedupon him by Self, themost he re- he is drivento prove his kinship part, seems moved fromhis dying. with otherthings creatures, all and Thank you,Peter, mean “with bed,with cockroach, a with I a thatnow; thankyouvery a mirror. . . ” (The progression . much. I came unto you that is describes Platonic. )In Jerry and you have comfortedproving thiskinship is extendhe me,dear Peter. Self, defying ing his boundaries, Oh since the Peter–(Almost fainting) my provinghis humanity, God. can kinship oJ.. ll nature be recogJerry-You’d better go now. nizedonlyby theanimalwho has comeby withinhim a spark of divinity.

    Somebody might and youdon’twantto be He findsat last, if he has been herewhenanyonecomes. completely truthful his search, in Peter-(Does not move,but be- thattheonlywayin which can he frontof him, not to at16 This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions of smashthe walls of his isolation story modern man and his isois and reachhisfellow creatures by lation and hope forsalvation. He so an act of love,a sacrifice, great uses the allusion to supporthis the thatit altogether destroys self own story.

    He has chosen tradithat imprisons I him, that it kills tional Christian symbols, think, him. Albee, in recreatingthis not becausetheyare tricky attenof has but theme, used a pattern sym- tion-getters, becausethe sacribolism that it is an immenselyficeof Christis perhapsthe most of effective that story been the has way exapndedallusionto the story sacrifice. the symbol- toldin thepast. But Christ’s ism is not outside of the story which has to tell,whichis the he The CityCollege 17 This content downloaded on Sun, 3 Feb 2013 22:44:19 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What are some symbols used in the play in The Zoo Story?
    Moreover, the author uses symbolism such as the Zoo, dog, bench, and others to give out a meaning. For example, the zoo is used to represent an image of human isolation and the absence of communication between the people.
    What does the bench symbolize in The Zoo Story?
    The park bench, designed for leisurely park afternoons, is typically a symbol of civilized, evolved humanity: people, unlike animals, can build parks and benches and read books while sitting on them.
    What is the main theme of The Zoo Story?
    The Zoo Story is a one-act play by American playwright Edward Albee. His first play, it was written in 1958 and completed in just three weeks. The play explores themes of isolation, loneliness, miscommunication as anathematization, social disparity and dehumanization in a materialistic world.
    What symbol does zoo bear in The Zoo Story?
    The zoo constitutes the central symbol of the play and is an image of human isolation and absence of contact and communication.

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