Study Guide

The Zoo Story Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Edward Albee

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

JERRY: And you have a wife.
PETER: (Bewildered by the seeming lack of communication) Yes! (46-47)

Jerry is very interested in whether Peter has a wife and how that relates to his daughters. His interest seems bewildering (to Peter and the audience). But it makes more sense if Jerry is cruising. He's trying to figure out if Peter is available—and he's disappointed that he isn't.

Well…naturally, every man wants a son, but… (52)

Every man doesn't want a son, necessarily. The fact that Peter does is a signal in the play that he's uncertain, or nervous, about his masculinity.

Oh, you live in the Village! (This seems to enlighten PETER.) (105)

The Village in New York is a neighborhood filled with artists. But it's also a neighborhood known for its homosexual community. So Peter could be suddenly fitting Jerry into a box marked "artist/bohemian," but he could also be fitting him into a box marked "homosexual." But then of course Jerry isn't really from the Village, so all that box-putting is for nothing. That's what you get for carrying all those boxes around, Peter.

The room beyond my beaverboard wall is occupied by a colored queen who always keeps his door open; well, not always, but always when he's plucking his eyebrows, which he does with Buddhist concentration. (108)

Jerry refers several times, derogatorily, to the black, gay man who lives in his building. Jerry is gay himself, though, so his contempt for the other gay man seems like it could also be contempt for himself. Does Jerry dislike himself? There is some evidence for it (like the suicide).

PETER: your parents…perhaps…a girl friend…
JERRY: You're a very sweet man, and you're possessed of a truly enviable innocence. (115-116)

Peter suggests that Jerry might have pictures of people he loves, like parents or a girlfriend. Jerry says that Peter is innocent. That could just mean that Jerry's life is empty and loveless, and Peter is innocent because he doesn't understand the depths of Jerry's despair. But it could also mean a more specific innocence; Peter is assuming that there would be a girlfriend, rather than a boyfriend.

I was a h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-a-l. I mean, I was queer…(Very fast)…queer, queer, queer…with bells ringing, banners snapping in the wind. (124)

This is the most explicit mention of homosexuality in the play—a mention that has "bells ringing, banners snapping in the wind." It's both uncomfortable and celebratory. Jerry seems torn between those two attitudes.

PETER: (With disgust and impotence) Great God, I just came here to read and now you want me to give up the bench. You're mad. (238)

The stage directions mention Peter's "impotence." Jerry is coming onto Peter's bench and that makes Peter less of a man, both because men are supposed to fight—in this case, fight for their bench—and because Jerry encroaching on Peter's space raises the possibility of homosexual affection (which the play ambivalently sees as unmanly).

PETER: You've pushed me to it. Get up and fight.
JERRY: Like a man?
PETER: (Still angry) Yes, like a man, if you insist on mocking me even further. (254-256)

Manly men doing manly things near a bench.

(Spits in PETER's face) You couldn't even get your wife with a male child. (267)

Again, Peter is portrayed as impotent and not manly enough. This is also through Jerry making fun of Peter's relationship with his wife in order to get Peter to physically attack him. Sneering at the heterosexual relationship is a way to push Peter into a kind of homosexual relationship.

And Peter, I'll tell you something now; you're not really a vegetable; it's all right, you're an animal. You're an animal, too. (278)

Jerry compliments Peter by telling him he's not an impotent vegetable, but an animal. Aw shucks, he's going to make Peter blush. Just kidding—this is certainly not much comfort to Peter. When sexuality is seen as disgusting and icky, being potent isn't a whole lot more pleasant than being impotent.