Study Guide

The Zoo Story Sex

By Edward Albee


And for those eleven days, I met at least twice a day with the park superintendent's son…a Greek boy, whose birthday was the same as mine, except he was a year older. I think I was very much in love…maybe just with sex. But that was the jazz of a very special hotel, wasn't it. And now; oh, do I love the little ladies; really I love them. For about an hour. (124)

Jerry's most intense sexual experience was with a boy; he now has one-night stands with women (the women are possibly prostitutes). So his sexuality is marked as deviant, and he himself seems to see it as deviant. Sex is both something he's wistful for and something that makes him wrong and corrupt. (It's worth noting here that Albee himself is gay.)

JERRY: I would have thought that you would have asked me about those pornographic playing cards.
PETER: (With a knowing smile) Oh, I've seen those cards (130-131)

Jerry owns pornographic playing cards; Peter knows about those cards. They're united in sexy knowledge. Does that mean they're united in sexy interest? If you exchange pornographic playing cards, is that a kind of come-on?

...what I wanted to get at is the value difference between pornographic playing cards when you're a kid, and pornographic playing cards when you're older. It's that when you're a kid you use the cards as a substitute for a real experience, and when you're older you use real experience as a substitute for the fantasy. (138)

Jerry is saying that sex for kids is a fantasy of having a real experience, but once you've had the real experience, you want to get back to the fantasy. In sex, reality and fantasy are all mixed together, kind of like Disneyland.

…and somewhere, somewhere in the back of that pea-sized brain of hers, an organ developed just enough to let her eat, drink, and emit, she has some foul parody of sexual desire. And I, Peter, I am the object of her sweaty lust. (142)

Just about all we know about Jerry's landlady is that she's disgusting and she lusts after Jerry. If you haven't noticed, in this play lust is often disgusting or dirty. Why might that be?

But I have found a way to keep her off…I merely say: but Love; wasn't yesterday enough for you, and the day before? (144)

Jerry tricks the landlady into thinking she has slept with him. We know what you're thinking: how? We wish we knew, too. Either way, it's interesting to notice that the fantasy of sleeping with him substitutes for the reality, kind of like how the playing cards are a substitute for sex. Sex—it's tricky.

I do believe it's an old dog…it's certainly a misused one…almost always has an erection…of sorts. That's red, too. (157)

A dog with a giant red erection. Sex is absurd and animal and ugly. And remember the dog keeps attacking Jerry; the relationship between him and the dog seems like it is supposed to be sexual (at least from the dog's perspective), just like the relation with Peter is almost sexual at times.

PETER: I really should get home, you see…
JERRY: (Tickles PETER's ribs with his fingers) Oh, come on.
PETER: (He is very ticklish; as JERRY continues to tickle him his voice becomes falsetto) No, I…OHHHHH! Don't do that. Stop, Stop. Ohhh, no, no. (189-191)

Tickling is childish, silly, goofy. But it's also intimate. Two strangers tickling…it's not entirely innocent, as far as the sex theme goes.

(With a rush he charges PETER and impales himself on the knife. Tableau: For just a moment, complete silence, Jerry impaled on the knife at the end of PETER's still firm arm.) (270)

The last scene in the play, where Jerry throws himself on Peter's knife… Freud would say that that could be a metaphor for sex, with the knife as a phallic symbol. And don't forget—Freud gets mentioned right at the beginning of the play. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but not always.

Oh, Peter, I was so afraid I'd drive you away. (He laughs as best he can.) You don't know how afraid I was you'd go away and leave me. (274)

After getting stabbed with the phallic symbol, Jerry starts talking about how much he needs Peter and how he's afraid Peter would go away. Again—suggestive.

I came unto you (He laughs, so faintly) and you have comforted me. Dear Peter. (274)

The language is supposed to be Biblical, but there's also a double entendre—"came unto you" could refer to sexual orgasm. The apocalyptic end of the book could be not about death, but about homosexual love, which is seen as both liberating and impossible.