The Zoo Story Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1959

First published: 1959

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: A Sunday afternoon in summer, in the late 1950’s

Locale: Central Park, New York City

Characters DiscussedPeter

Peter, Zoo Story, Thean 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.

BibliographyAmacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. In chapter 3 of this book, “Ancient Tragedy and Modern Absurdity,” the author analyzes the classical plot of The Zoo Story and discusses the problems of biblical language, the face of the television screen, and the existential position found in the play. He concludes with an interesting and informative discussion of the play as a classical Greek tragedy.Hayman, Ronald. Edward Albee. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. Contains a relatively brief and easy-to-follow analysis of the plot and themes in the play. Hayman concludes that The Zoo Story is not a homosexual play, an absurd play, or a religious play as other critics contend; it is an outstanding moral play.Rutenberg, Michael E. Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest. New York: DBS, 1969. A discussion of Albee as an astute social critic, deeply moral and committed to the cause of human dignity in an ethically moribund age. Chapter 1, on The Zoo Story, analyzes the play as a defense of society’s outcasts who have been victimized by the stupidity and bias of the successful elite.Way, Brian. “Albee and the Absurd: The American Dream and The Zoo Story.” In Edward Albee, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. A perceptive and well-articulated analysis of the tension between the realist and absurd dimensions in the play and of Albee’s brilliance, inventiveness, intelligence, and moral courage in writing it. This book has a useful Albee bibliography along with a number of other excellent essays.Zimbardo, Rose A. “Symbolism and Naturalism in Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story.” In Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by C. W. E. Bigsby. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975. An interesting analysis of The Zoo Story as a modern morality play whose theme is human isolation and salvation through sacrifice. Albee uses traditional Christian symbols because the sacrifice of Christ is perhaps the most effective way that the story has been told in the past.
Categories: Characters