Study Guide

Peter in The Zoo Story

By Edward Albee


Peter's a boring guy. He's got a wife, two daughters, and a few parakeets and cats. He comes out to the park on Sunday and sits on the bench and reads Time magazine. Then during the week he goes to work, where he's paid a lot of money. Tough life.

As you can see, Peter doesn't offer us much to build a play on. That's why you need Jerry to do the exciting things like go to the zoo and poison dogs and stab himself. If it were just a play about Jerry, at least something would happen. If it were just a play about Peter…well. As Jerry says, "you are a vegetable, and a slightly nearsighted one, I think…" (257).

It's somewhat surprising, then, to realize that Albee did write a whole other play, not about Jerry, but about Peter—first produced in 2011, more than 50 years after the first performance of The Zoo Story.

In part, Albee wrote the play because, he, too, thought Peter was a bit of a blank. "Jerry is a fully developed, three-dimensional character. But Peter is a backboard. He's not fully developed. Peter had to be more fleshed out," Albee told an interviewer.

Far be it from Shmoop to disagree with Edward Albee… but is Peter really a backboard? When you read closely—like, nose-pressed-to-the-page close—it seems like maybe the reason to make another play about Peter is not because he's a backboard, but because he has unexpected depths.

He seems, specifically, to be uncomfortably aware of the fact that he's kind of a backboard. He mentions that he's not going to have any more children, and seems to feel vaguely ashamed that he hasn't been able to convince his wife to have more.

He starts on conversational gambits, like talking about literature, and then fades out halfway through, embarrassed at his own banality: "Those two men are fine, each in his way. Baudelaire, of course…uh…is by far the finer of the two, but Marquand has a place…in our…uh…national…" (101). Peter's a bore to us, sure, but he's also a bore to himself.

And then there are moments when he almost rises to whimsy, giggling happily when Jerry tickles him, making small fantasies about the parakeets serving dinner. "You're a very…a richly comic person" (180), Jerry tells him. Jerry's probably joking, but then maybe not exactly. Maybe Peter could be funny if he could get off that bench, get out of his bourgeois lifestyle, and get tickled regularly by Jerry.

And to some degree, that's what happens. Jerry enters his life and everything gets more exciting and Peter will never sit bored on his bench again. Jerry is sort of Peter's Manic Pixie Dream Girl, except, you know, with fewer wacky hijinks and more sharp edges and blood. Who knows, maybe Peter would rather be boring after all.