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Albee's The Zoo Story: Alienated Man and the Nature of Love MARY M. NILAN • "If we can so misunderstand, well then, why have we invented the word love in the first place." Jerry in The Zoo Story EDWARD ALBEE'S THE ZOO STORY centers about two themes: the polarization of modern society and the difficulty of human communication. To date, most commentators have viewed Peter, the representative of "those who have," the insiders of modern society, as the chief obstacle to any real communication; whereas Jerry is seen as one filled with compassion for his fellow beings, willing to sacrifice himself to save them. For example, for Rose Zimbardo, Jerry is a Christ-figure in a "modernized scene of Gethsemane" and the theme is one of "human isolation and salvation through sacrifice."! Peter she conceives as Everyman who will not reveal his true self for fear of being "known" as a person. Jerry, on the other hand, is seen as desperately desiring to "know," to reach an understanding with another. CharlesR. Lyons sees Jerry as attempting two means to establish some contact: "compassion" (with the dog) and "an act of sacrifice" (with Peter).2 Jerry's sacrifice is compassionate, Lyons maintains, because "it functions to initiate Peter into an acute awareness of his reality."3 George E. Wellwarth adds another dimension to this portrait of a compassionate, self-sacrificing character when he notes that Jerry represents for him "the person cursed (for in our society it undoubtedly is a curse) with an infinite capacity for love" and thus he sees the drama as "about the maddening effect that enforced loneliness of the human condition" has on such a person.4 But if Jerry, representative of the alienated, the permanent transient, "the outsider," does indeed have such an "infinite capacity for love," why then do all his attempts to achieve communication fail? Does the fault always lie with the other - with all "the pretty little girls," with the dog, as well as 55 56 MARY M. NILAN with Peter? Or perhaps is Jerry himself, the other half of polarized society, at least equally culpable for the isolated condition, the zoo of cages each man constructs for hlmself? Perhaps Jerry's universal predicament is best summarized by Eric Fromm in The Art ofLoving: Man - of all ages and cultures - is confronted with the solution of one and the same question: the question of how to overcome the separateness, how to achieve union, how to transcend one's own individual life and find at-onement.s The "solution" is of course to overcome separateness through "love," but this essentially involves giving, not receiving. Longfellow remarked that love gives itself; it is not bought, bringing to mind the New Testament, which tells us that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son. This giving, in Fromm's words, "implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life.,,6 Thus the question arises: if man is impotent, that is, unable to produce love in another or he himself the object of love, may it not be because he has not truly given of himself or perhaps has found that he is incapable of such selflessness? On this point it is necessary to analyze closely the pattern of Jerry's attempts to "love," in the sense of establishing an "I/Thou" relationship with another. Essentially our knowledge of these attempts falls into three categories. First, scattered throughout the play we have a series of facts about hls past and present life. Second, in the lengthy sequence of "Jerry and the Dog" we hear of his deeds - since communication with an animal must be established by deeds, not words. Finally, there is the main action of the piece, an essentially verbal confrontation with Peter. Jerry provides us with some facts about his past life. He has, for example, "two picture frames, both empty," symbolic of course otthe emptiness of his own life. But when questioned by Peter, he maintains that there isn't "anyone to put in" the frames. He has apparently given his love to no one. Peter...


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pp. 55-59
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