The Zoo Story Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Edward Albee

First published: 1959

Genre: Play

Locale: Central Park, New York City

Plot: Absurdist

Time: A Sunday afternoon in summer, in the late 1950's

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 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 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, 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.

Categories: Characters