Study Questions on The Zoo Story by Edward Albee

Written and adapted from various sources
by
Dr. Tina L. Hanlon

Associate Professor of English
Ferrum College

 

  1. Albee has been described as “a leading figure of the new drama of the absurd that mingles the realistic with fantasy to present a savagely satirical attack on spiritual sterility, blandness, conformity, and hypocrisy, and to summon up with deep feeling the tragedy of alienation.”  What aspects of this description apply to Zoo Story?
  2. How does the blend of realism and symbolism in this play compare with The Glass Menagerie and “The School”?  Look carefully for symbolic details throughout the play.
  3. What do Jerry’s comments about his family background, and his dead parents in particular, reveal about his character?
  4. What is the significance of the title of this play?  Does the play suggest that human beings are like caged and isolated animals in any way?  Can Peter be said to live in a metaphorical zoo?
  5. Why is Jerry associated with a dog and Peter with a cat?  What similarities or overlapping is there in the animal images associated with both of them?
  6. What mythological and Biblical parallels are suggested by Jerry’s language as he describes his life (and by Peter’s name)?  Several critics have viewed Jerry as a Christ figure, a Christ parody, and a Jeremiah who denounces false gods.  What do you think of these interpretations?
  7. What differences between Jerry and Peter are emphasized by their living conditions, their language, and their methods of telling stories?
  8. What is the significance of the props associated with each character:  Harry’s knife and Peter’s book?
  9. What are the parodies of sexuality associated with Jerry and how do they compare with the sexual and domestic realities of Peter’s life?
  10. Can Jerry and Peter be seen as two sides of the same coin, representing different manifestations of sterility in modern society?
  11. How does the play suggest that animalistic violence lies beneath a thin veneer of civilization in modern society?
  12. What is your reaction to the end of the play?  Does Peter release Jerry from his hell at the end?

            

Study Questions on “The School” by Donald Barthelme

  1. Who is the speaker in this story?  What kinds of attitudes are conveyed by the speaker’s style and tone?
  2. The speaker seems to be addressing a particular audience (as in a dramatic monologue like “The Love of of J. Alfred Prufrock”).  What effect does this have on our reactions to the story?
  3. What events have made this “a strange year” at the school?  How does the speaker’s matter-of-fact tone affect our view of these events?  How are we affected by reviewing these events in the context of an elementary school?
  4. Barthelme is a master of “metafiction,” a worldwide movement in the twentieth century that involves writing about fiction in the form of fiction.  In it authors draw attention to the deception inherent in all fiction, including more traditional types that presume to tell us what is real or true.  Metafiction provokes us to ask questions about when we are truly ourselves, truly authentic.  One answer is: when we are posing, telling stories, making fictions.  Metafiction has its realistic dimension, conveying something of the actualities of life experience as well as something about the nature of fiction.  What elements of this story draw attention to the artificiality of fiction, or the devices of storytelling?
  5. How realistic are the questions about life and death and sex supposedly repeated from the children?
  6. Why are the questions about sex used to end the story after a narration primarily about death? Why do the children say a demonstration of lovemaking would be an assertion of value?
  7. What is the effect of the ending of the story?  Is it optimistic or do you have pessimistic expectations about the new gerbil?  What is suggested by the children’s wild cheering in spite of their experience with and questioning of death?
  8. What kinds of questions about the purpose and nature of education, or about teacher-student relations, are raised in this play?
  9. Barthelme’s stories often use fantastic humor marked by a straightforward presentation of absurdly grotesque, illogical, and meaningless matters as if to indicate that their world, and therefore our own, is wholly irrational. How does this description apply to “The School”?

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