In a crowded city such as Manhattan, it was no wonder that a man like Jerry felt lonely. He was without a friend, a mother and father, and the typical ‘wife, two children, and a dog,’; that many others had. Jerry was thrown in a world that he felt did not want him, and his human flaw of wanting to escape loneliness led to his tragic death. In Edward Albee’s play, The Zoo Story, all Jerry wanted was to be heard and understood, and in the end, after sharing his life story with a complete stranger, he got his final wish – death. The Zoo Story not only tells of the alienation of man in modern society, but also reflects the philosophy of twentieth century existentialism.
Jerry made a conscious choice of wanting to end his life, while Peter, a man that chose to act as the ‘guinea pig’; and stayed and listened to Jerry’s story, made a conscious choice of picking up same knife that killed Jerry. Although it was Peter who held the knife that killed Jerry, it was Jerry who took the responsibility to – despite great effort and pain – ‘wipe the knife handle clean of fingerprints’; to allow no trace of the murderer. However, although Peter escaped without responsibility, he had to deal with the guilt that it was him who held the weapon that ended the life of Jerry. Peter had to face the rest of his life being aware of how others lived, and how one can feel so indifferent to the world yet live in the very same part of the city.
Both Peter and Jerry had to accept that the world they lived in was a hostile universe. Peter led his life playing by the rules while Jerry decided to accept the cruelties of life the way they were. Peter found that to live in this hostile world, it was better to conform with society and, as Jerry accused him, ‘make sense out of things and bring order.’; Both the men’s acceptance, however, led to the isolation of the individual, where Jerry felt alone not by choice, while Peter, even though he lived according to the rules of society, still managed to isolate himself because he lived in a household of females. He achieved his sense of satisfaction with the world by coming to the same part of the park to read. ‘I’ve come here for years; I have hours of great pleasure, great satisfaction. And that’s important to a man.’;
Although both Jerry and Peter came from the same city, both encountered different experiences. Each had a different way of interpreting life’s mishaps, and the way that they chose to handle certain situations led to the ultimate conclusion of their well-being. Jerry found that his death was appropriate in order to escape the unforgiving world, while Peter found it difficult to perceive that one would think of such a deadly solution to one’s feelings of isolation. Peter was shocked when he saw Jerry on the bench slowly dying ;#8211; replying nothing more than ‘oh my god’; ;#8211; while Jerry, on the other hand, replied with ‘thank you.’; Even though life was unexplainable, Jerry did not try to reason his life out, but rather he accepted that it was his fate to die. It was his destiny to be born in a household that lacked love – ‘a terribly middle-European joke, if you ask me.’;
The Zoo Story was also a classic example of the I-thou relationship. The I-thou relationship is only experienced in rare moments, and in the Zoo story, there were two. In one case, it was the incident with Jerry and the dog. Jerry and the dog shared a solitary moment in which the only thing that mattered in the world was the two. Neither the Jerry nor the dog established an effective form of communication with one another, but at one point, they learned to live with the other. Another I-thou relationship moment was between Jerry and Peter, and as a result of Jerry’s death, Jerry would live immortally in Peter’s mind because Jerry would be remembered.
The Zoo Story is a classic example of how a man can feel existentialism in the world ;#8211; how he can feel so lonely and desperate for recognition in society that can lead to the tragic result of his innocent death. The story depicts the human flaw of wanting to be accepted in a busy world, and, as in the case of Jerry, how such feelings of isolation can lead in a tragic deterioration of self-happiness in the world.