They play, however, illustrates the elemental differences between Peter and Jerry through the contrasting ways in which they use language. Jerry uses original language: he says what he means and fully expresses his hidden emotions through the words that he manipulates. Peter, on the other hand, uses wholly generic language: he is a slave to the words that he feels are appropriate and inoffensive. Peter has no control over the words—they are one of the things that keep him confined within himself.
Clearly, this is ironic because Peter is a publisher: his job is to manipulate language.
Yet it is also significant that a publisher is an expert at structuring generic language—words, phrases, and articles that are acceptable to the general public. In this regard, Peter is the perfect subject for Jerry to employ his mold-breaking tactics to: Peter is so ensconced in the rituals of daily life that provoking him to behave differently will require all of Jerry’s skill.
Jerry definitely has a plan when he approaches Peter; he states, “I’ll start walking around in a little while, and eventually I’ll sit down.
(Recalling) Wait until you see the expression on his face. ” (Albee, 22). This is a very revealing passage for a number of reasons. First, it shows that Jerry has deliberated upon how he will behave and that he has a specific aim in mind. Second, the fact that he is “recalling” the look on Peter’s face indicates that he has already envisioned or foreseen the outcome of his conversation; or it could even mean that Jerry believes that the outcome has already occurred or is preordained.
Certainly, it has already occurred in his mind, all that remains is for it to be displayed.
And third, the second half of his statement is almost undeniably directed at the audience. It is one of the few instances in which the audience is covertly acknowledged, but the function of the audience is to wait and see—observe, watch. The expression on Peter’s face is to be a spectacle. It will be something worth gawking at through the bars. The bars, in this case, are the generally accepted norms that the audience will not rush upon the stage, or disrupt the show in any way. The audience is there to watch, but not to behave as they freely wish to.
Additionally, the actors are there to fulfill their roles and display this spectacle of humanity. The spectacle is to be the expression on his face: the moment at which he realizes the line he has crossed and has become free. Peter puts up a respectable fight, however, to Jerry’s onslaught. Jerry directly tells him what it is that confines people: “We neither love nor hurt because we do not try to reach each other. ” (Albee, 44). Peter is not prepared or comfortable with such blatantly stated proclamations about love. He responds, “I DON”T WANT TO HEAR ANY MORE.
I don’t understand you, or your landlady, or her dog . . . ” (Albee, 45). It is noteworthy that Peter’s response cannot possibly be true. Exactly what Peter does not understand is why Jerry or anyone would express themselves so intimately and without any qualms. Since the story of the dog fails to progress in a linear manner—there is no obvious beginning, middle or end—Peter wants to believe that he does not understand. Peter wanted there to be a plainly stated point to the story; preferably something benign and harmless.
Instead, what he got was a peak into the soul of a tortured and lonely man. To reach an understanding with such a man would be to admit inwardly that there is something wrong with himself. So, although Jerry’s storytelling strategy is utterly broken and non-linear, he has nevertheless succeeded in using language to convey his feelings. He openly reveals why he went to the zoo: “I went to the zoo to find out more about the way people exist with animals, and the way animals exist with each other, and with people too.
It really wasn’t a fair test, what with everyone separated by bars from everyone else, the animals for the most part from each other, and always the people from the animals. ” (Albee, 49). Upon saying this, he immediately begins to physically poke Peter further down the bench. Jerry realizes that he his still in the zoo, and that he his separated from Peter by certain types of bars. First, Peter seems to think it wholly inappropriate that Jerry, a complete stranger, is toughing him. Second, he is exasperated at the fact that Jerry begins to make irrational demands of him—he wants to take his bench.
And third, when Peter finally decides to fight, he is angered that Jerry is not willing to fight in an ordinary, acceptable manner. These are the boundaries that Jerry is attempting to break. Jerry believes that by inducing this trapped man to kill he will reach him and understand another animal. Still, the only way that Jerry is able to bring Peter to anger is distinctly American: he takes something away from him, a physical object that he considered to be his own—his bench. This is an attack on the notion of private property; significantly, the bench actually is communal but Peter identifies it as his own.
Jerry manages to take it away from his by forever associating it with his own murder in Peter’s mind. He will never be able to go back. Jerry breaks the boundaries just as he had planned, and the audience is afforded a glimpse at Peter’s stricken face as Jerry says, “Thank you Peter. I mean that, now; thank you very much. ” (Albee, 60). The play ends in the same setting as it began, but to Peter’s mind it has been completely altered.
Work Cited: 1. Albee, Edward. The Zoo Story. New York: Coward-McCann, 1960.
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