The monkeys, at the zoo, of course, are in literal cages. But nearly every character is in a metaphorical cage. John feels trapped by his father's expectation that John will become a businessman like himself; John's father is trapped in his narrow world at the Coffee Exchange; John's mother is trapped by her obsession with cleaning; Lorraine is trapped by her mother's suspicions; Lorraine's mother is trapped in her awful job; Mr. Pignati is trapped in his grief over his wife's death.
One moment at the zoo (at the bat exhibit), which Lorraine thinks is an omen, explores the cage as metaphor:
[…] a little kid about ten years old who was sitting right up on the railing and leaning against the glass of the bat cage. Only he wasn't looking at the bats. He was looking at you when you came to look at the bats. And when I came up to the cage to see these ugly blood-sucking creatures, I had to look right into this little kid's face that had a smirk on it. He made me feel as though I was a bat in a cage and he was on the outside looking in at me. It all made me very nervous. (6)
Wow! That's quite a passage! We knew Lorraine was slightly paranoid, but this is weird.
Lorraine describes Bobo as "the ugliest, most vicious-looking baboon I've ever seen in my life" (6), and the zoo attendant who feeds him says, after his death: "Can't say I feel particularly sorry about it because that baboon had the nastiest disposition around here" (14). And yet Mr. Pignati loves Bobo, feeds him treats, worries about him, and calls him his "best friend" (6). Bobo seems to function as some sort of surrogate son, and points to the fact that Mr. Pignati is kind of fond of misfits, whether their animals (like Bobo) or humans (like John and Lorraine). John later discusses baboons as a symbol:
And maybe Lorraine and I were only a different kind of baboon in a way. Maybe we were all baboons for that matter—big blabbing baboons—smiling away and not really caring what was going on as long as there were enough peanuts bouncing around to think about— […] baffled baboons concentrating on all the wrong things. (15)
Mr. Pignati's Pig Collection
Mr. Pignati's prized pig collection, which is hidden in a small room behind a black curtain, seems to symbolize his happy life with Conchetta. The collection got started, he tells John and Lorraine, when he gave Conchetta a white ceramic pig, to remind her of him. John tells us that there are "glass pigs and clay pigs and marble pigs" (5) – all breakable materials. When the pig collection gets smashed, this seems to symbolize the end of Mr. Pignati's life and his will to live.
Mr. Pignati's Husband-Wife-Lover-Boatman-Assassin Game
This game centers around a story about a murder of an adulterous wife. The players have to decide who is to blame for her death. The game seems to stand as an allegory for one of the central questions the novel raises: Who is responsible for Mr. Pignati's death? Is it the person who set the entire plot in motion? The person whose actions immediately caused the death? Does the wife's betrayal of her husband symbolize John and Lorraine's betrayal of Mr. Pignati?
The Three Monkeys in the Pet Department at Beekman's
The "three little monkeys in a cage that were hugging each other like crazy" are a symbol of Lorraine, John, and Mr. Pignati's friendship. Thinking of how they must look as they roller-skate out of Beekman's, Lorraine makes this analogy herself:
We must have looked just like three monkeys. The Pigman, John, and me—three funny little monkeys. (8)