Places: The Zoo Story

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1959

First produced: 1959

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Late 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Central Park

*Central Zoo Story, The Park. Large public park in central Manhattan represented in the play only by benches on opposite edges of the stage. The atmosphere initially seems pleasant as a man named Peter, seated at stage right, reads under a canopy of plants and the sky. The repose is broken when Jerry enters and insists on engaging Peter in conversation. Another pair of locations quickly becomes central to the unfolding events. Peter lives in a toney neighborhood east of the park, while Jerry resides in a shabby rooming house on Central Park West. These locations reflect the characters’ vastly different lives and suggest fundamental incompatibilities.

On the surface, Central Park appears to occupy neutral ground, but through Jerry’s monologues and interrogations, it emerges as symbols of New York City itself and the impersonality of modern urban life. People pass one another without comment or occupy benches and barely exchange glances. Jerry is determined to break through Peter’s reserve and establish a human relationship.

Jerry’s rooming house

Jerry’s rooming house. Jerry describes his residence as a battle zone in which he contends with a neighbor’s ill-tempered dog. At first, he had tried to placate the dog with hamburgers; later, he had tried to poison the dog. Eventually he and the dog had achieved an understanding; however, Peter cannot comprehend the implications of Jerry’s tale.


Zoo. Location that remains off-stage yet uppermost in Jerry’s mind. With its cages, the zoo is another symbol of the condition of modern people, constrained by conventionality, etiquette, and repressed emotions. When Peter fails to understand Jerry’s dog story, Jerry surrenders his own life to illustrate the condition of debilitating isolation and to establish a profound human connection.

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: Places