Running Head; Albee’s Treatment

of Contemporary Malaise in his The Zoo Story and Everything in the Garden.



 Before getting into the analysis of the social malaise, it is extremely important to explore the etymological sources of the term “symptomatic” so as to realise the full potential of its signification. Derived mainly from a branch of medicine called “pathology,” the term “symptom” essentially signifies the manifest and the external data that the physiology of an individual often makes available to a clinical doctor for the diagnosis of the deeper, internal pathological condition. Often the treatment of a disease in the affected individual is expected to follow a twofold course; it may be directed toward restoration of a normal physiological state and/or toward removal of the causative agent.

By its very nature, “symptomatic,” an adjective derived from the noun “symptom,” characterizes temporary and a reversible physiological condition. Though it was initially used in the domain of pathology, at some stage later, it entered into the realm of psychopathology as well. In 1904 Freud published his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which he explored such seemingly insignificant errors as slips of the tongue or pen (later called Freudian slips), misreadings or forgetting of names.

These errors Freud understood to have symptomatic and thus interpretable importance. It needs to be pointed out here that in the present context, too, the term “symptomatic” largely has to do with the psychopathology of the individuals trapped in an interpersonal relationship. As a matter of fact, one of the assumptions behind the symptomatic relationship is that the deeper psychological symptoms of an individual often manifest themselves only in a set of social situations/circumstances, and through a relationship.

More than a study of the causal factors influencing human behaviour and motivations, symptomatic relationship is essentially an exploration of complex human motivations that often reveal themselves in a crisis situation. It is for this reason that for a fuller understanding of the symptomatic relationships, Freudian mediation of human psychopathology has to be supplemented by insights from existential psychology. Relationship turns pathological when an individual carrying clear symptoms of some psychopathological condition or circumvent the conflict, arising from his own peculiar situation. In this case, the pathological condition is being treated as an a priori assumption, though the terms “pathological” or “abnormal” is not being used here as a culturally relative term, instead as something characterizing maladaptive behaviour. Since this relationship often takes on the form of self-infection, arising out of the personal, pathological need(s) of the individual, it apparently lacks all the trappings of a deeper form of bonding, and a best, remains only functional, transactional or superficial in nature. In this relationship, existential engagement is neither ever sought as a conscious aim, nor is intended to be realized. Symptomatic relationship offers no potential for the kind of deeper, psychic interpretation or the connection that the dialectical relationship does. Born out of the unpredictable patterns of an individual’s psychopathology, and propelled by the circumstantial necessities of the situation, this kind of relationship not only remains arbitrary in nature but also tends to become a matter solely of existential choice. However, this existential choice is invariably exerted by an individual strictly in response to the contingencies of his or her own situation, which, in turn, brings the element of functionalism into it. In certain cases, the choice is made in a self-conscious manner while in others, it is imposed on its own by the situational necessities. The other person, on whom this kind of relationship is often inflicted, is presented with a situation that he or she can neither endure nor fight against. This is what reduces a symptomatic relationship into an ‘‘I-It’’ relationship, a form of relationship formulated by Buber (1958). It is a relationship through which subject-object identification is not only reinforced but also legitimated. As a result, the dynamics of the “self-other” dichotomy, with all its attendant consequences, inevitably comes into play. The subject (one who causes the infliction / connection) and object (upon or against whom the infliction / connection is foisted) fail to coalesce and only peripheral overlapping of their life-space occurs, if at all it does. No doubt, the subject neither intends nor ever feels the need to enter into a binding commitment with the object but its self-commitment is invariably demonstrated in different life-situations. This is perhaps another causative factor that explains why such a bond almost always remains arbitrary or even functional. It is as though the subject is often driven by a compulsive personal need to inflict itself on the object, especially if other ways of establishing the connection somehow do not materialize. The need of the subject to act out its symptom is so strong that it overrides all considerations, personal or social, about the object. In such a situation, the object is often reduced to a mere puppet, an easy tool, manipulated, manoeuvred, controlled and even forced into submission by the subject almost at will. Since the symptomatic relationship only meets the psychopathological demands of the subject, the object simply becomes a willing or grudging participant in the perfunctory game of temporary contact.

The pathological nature of such an equation is also demonstrated by the Victim-Victimizer equation it often sets up. It is further underlined by the inauthentic mode of existence that the subject invariably ends up with. Often this “inauthentic existence” either manifests itself in form of withdrawal from social reality, therefore pushing the subject into a state of alienation or pushing itself forward, seeks to exercise absolute control or oppressive domination over others through means that are not always socially sanctioned and legitimized into a neurotic or a severe psychotic condition, any attempt to face the inner conflict could precipitate a flight away from Eros and towards Thantos. Exhibiting a marked pre-disposition for self-destructive, nihilistic death in­stinct, such an individual also often seeks deflection from his self-chosen goal of self-destruction so as to be able to arrive at it. This is how such a subject could be said to demonstrate a definite propensity towards the “detour re­sponse.”

Marcuse has clearly suggested that ‘‘it's the failure of Eros, lack of satis­factory fulfillment in life that enhances the instinctual value of death’’ (1970 109). Once the fact about the irreconcilable nature of personal conflict has been recognized, the subject turns to the object for making ritualistic, if not a real contact with his own self through the process of self-annihilation or death. The object under the circumstances, becomes a receptacle for aggression emanating from Thanatos, the aggression, which, in all prob­ability, is almost always inwardly directed. And when the sub­ject has succeeded in overcoming the blocks frustrating Thanatos through this process, self-destruction becomes inevi­table. Thus, in making contact with the other, the subject es­sentially makes a deeper contact with itself, and having failed to do so authentically, it directs the destructive impulse toward some form of self-annihilation, a real or simulated act of suicide. After having lived in a state of alienation from the world, the subject ultimately does realize the futility of directing its latent aggression outwardly. However, when an individual is motivated by an obsessive compulsion to seek domination over others, it is the overactive Eros or the instinct for self-preservation that be­comes the generative principle. So much so that it overrides the “destructive instinct,” blocking out the Thanatos and also weakening it, in the process. Such a situation often reverses the momentum, as an individual so trapped takes a long leap forward in the direction of life force, thus circumventing the ominous fear of death. In this respect, Marcuse has emphatically stated that "liberation of Eros in an alienated world essentially becomes destructive and fatal" (85). Given the conditions of aliena­tion, Eros does direct the aggression embodied in Thanatos outwardly in interpersonal relations with the world around. This kind of situation often prompts the `subject' to enter into socially prohibitive, repressed even promiscuous and perverted relation­ships. The only way a subject can demonstrate its domination over others is by imposing its own value-system upon them. The preeminence of Thanatos and its consequent release of unnatu­ral reserves of aggression do highlight the psychopathology of the subject, though that by itself does not necessarily make for any transference of the symptoms from the subject to the ob­ject. The transference of the symptoms takes place only when the Eros turns socially hostile, even destructive, so much so that the perversions or aberrations become more of a normative condition than an exception.




Be it isolation or hostility, each such mode of inauthenticity invariably puts an individual on the periphery of his social con­text or milieu. This explains why symptomatic relationship may not ever fall within tile framework of socially acceptable models of relational classification or categorization. Besides, this fact also brings into focus for us the impersonal, perfunctory, even functional nature of such a relationship. Unable to gain social / legal /moral sanction, symptomatic equation often sustains itself either through the transference of an individual's peculiar symptomology or by enforcing the value-system s/he seeks to uphold. If anyone of the two possibilities remains unrealized, once the perfunctory connection has been made and purpose of the relationship already achieved, such a relationship tends to disintegrate or dissolve. If seen in its proper perspective, a symptomatic relationship comes into existence, albeit temporar­ily, merely to demonstrate an individual's pathology or dramatize the symptoms underlying it. The process of transference does not really help relieve the symptoms, it only reinforces them. For this reason, this particular model does not offer any real pos­sibility of becoming therapeutic, and its curative potential almost always goes unrealized. Otherwise, too, if the symptomatic rela­tionship were to become therapeutic, it would cease to be a pathological relatedness and become instead, a positive form of growth-oriented relationship.

Now that the modalities of this model have already been de­limited, what remains to be seen is how it could be used to ex­amine micro patterns of “contemporary disease” through a study of relationships in such plays as The Zoo Story and Everything in the Garden.

The study tries to start its analysis with The Zoo Story. An extended metaphor, both poetic and evocative, the play appears to gain a plenitude of meaning through its rare economy of detail and deft structuring of dramatic action. The whole substratum of dramatic action and tension essentially rests upon two principal characters, Jerry and Peter, who, too, are often described by some critics as ‘‘each other's double’’ (Bennet: 1977 60). Jerry's relationship with Peter, which could eas­ily be termed as symptomatic, has to be understood in the light of former's peculiar circumstantial and pathological compul­sions. An alienated soul, estranged from his familial and social surroundings, Jerry, it appears, is caged in his own cell, with all possibility of human contact totally blocked out. He is a product of the broken home, since his "good old mom walked out on good old pop, when he was ten and a half years old" (Albee: 1978 166). Obviously, he could not have known the security or stability that a happy or harmonious domestic situation sometimes offers. Af­ter leaving home, his mother even "embarked on an adulterous turn of our Southern states […] a journey of a year's duration" (ibid.) before she "parted with the ghost in some dump in Ala­bama" (ibid.). After about "two weeks," his father also "slapped into the front of a somewhat moving city omnibus" (ibid.) and committed suicide. If his mother was licentious and loose, his father, impulsive, reckless was irresponsible. So in early child­hood he had no role model to identify himself with. This kind of situation not only led to emotional insecurity and psychological scarring but even marred his chances of growing up into a well-adjusted, integrated individual. Having been orphaned, literally and psychologically, he moved in with his "mom's sister" whose only memory he still has is that "she did all things dourly, sleeping, eating, working, praying" (ibid.). She too "dropped dead on the stairs of her apartment" on the "afternoon of his high school graduation" (166). Thus cut off from all kinds of familial bonds rather early on in life, Jerry had been set adrift on his solitary voyage across the wide, wide world. No wonder, for an individual like him, alienation easily became inter-alia, a patho­logical though irreversible condition.

Before examining how alienation turns pathological for jerry, it is necessary to probe somewhat deeper into his private situa­tion. Most significant of his varied possessions are "two picture frames, both empty" (165), which, quite literally, means that Jerry has absolutely no frame of reference whatsoever. This fact only coincides with his sense of emptiness when Jerry recon­structs his own antecedents so painstakingly. The crystalline transparency with which he catalogues his possessions, "a knife, two forks, two spoons, eight or nine books, a pack of porno­graphic cards, regular deck" (ibid.) is again a painful reflection on his isolation. He has possibly been repeating the whole sequence to himself, even to others in his desperate attempts to make con­tact. The "rooming house" symbolically called Jerry's "under­world" (Anderson: 1983 99) is, in fact, a human parallel of the zoo where "everyone separated by bars from everyone else" (179), is living out the trauma of his caged existence. If we take the geo­graphical placement of the rooming house, lying between Co­lumbus Avenue and Central West Park into account, the whole of America becomes an abode of permanent transients, and rooming house its symbolic representation. The fact that Jerry resides on the fourth floor is important as it signifies the possi­bility of American consciousness going beyond the three-layered world, into a conflict-free zone of pure consciousness. However, he leaves us in no doubt that this state is attainable only through death. All other possibilities of attaining Nirvana, Albee appears to be suggesting, simply do not exist for the American conscious­ness.

Interestingly enough, some of the occupants of the rooming house include, a coloured queen, “a lady who cried all the time,” “a Puerto Rican family,” all of whom impress us as being either eccentrics or social outcasts. Jerry's assertion in this con­text, "I'm a permanent transient" (177) is no purple oxymoron but a painful admission that he has no sense of belonging to the place he has for long been living in. In a manner of speaking, Jerry's condition typifies the psychopathological isolation of an average American, who often exists in state of `anomie' or cul­tural vacuum. The title of the play definitely underscores this fact that more than a piece of fiction, Jerry's story embodies a total perspective of life and world that surrounds him. It is the perspective of a man who, after having lost his moorings com­pletely, now wanders through the world he neither knows nor understands. Seen from this standpoint, the zoo becomes an objectified version of Jerry's own situation, and if at all he de­sires to visit it, it is mainly "to find out more about the way peo­ple exist with animals and the way animals exist with each other, and with people too" (179). Jerry's ontological view, it seems, has found a perfect correlation between the human and animal world and its understanding holds the key, as it were, to the un­derstanding of the play. The hierarchy of creation has been top­pled so that animalistic man and humanized animal have come to co-exist. Bigsby stated that:

[t]o Albee, and one fancies to those other Analysts of American decay, Allen Ginsberg and Randall Jarrell, the zoo has suddenly become a horrifyingly accurate image of a society where furious activity serves to mark an essential inertia and whose sociability conceals a fundamental isolation. (1978 30)

So much then for Jerry's alienated condition, but what makes it turgidly pathological is his homosexual past. He admits that ever since he has had a homosexual liaison with a Greek boy in his adolescence, he has never been able to have sex "with the little ladies more than once" (167). His relatively early initiation into homosexuality seems to have crippled his re­sponse to a well-adjusted, integrated heterosexual relationship and his pathological isolation seems to have impaired the possibility of authentic existence for him. Not only this, it has seem­ingly led to a psychic disorientation, too, where the distinction between fantasy and reality becomes virtually impossible. He is apparently admitting a fact about himself when he tells Peter, "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" (168).

Jerry who is essentially existing in a Nietzschean world where God turned his back on the whole thing seems to have found compensatory mechanism as the only principle of sur­vival. His inability to face up to life squarely is reflected in his “detour response,” which seems to have become his characteristic response to the life-situations. When he tells Peter "sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back short distance. correctly" (164), he is not just indulging in random quibbling, but is making an important admission about his distinctive response-pattern. Not only did he take a detour while visiting the zoo, but also while making contact with Peter. So much so that the conversation he succeeds in foisting on Peter becomes a tour de force, meant obviously to skirt and finally culminate into the final act of suicide. More about it, later. Right now we must examine how Jerry came to develop detour re­sponse, which ultimately incapacitated him for direct contact and communication. According to  Bigsby "Communica­tion is not impossible in Albee's world. It is simply avoided as being a threat to complacency and comfortable isolation." (1978 30)

This brings us to the Story of Jerry and the Dog, which in words of  Hayman, becomes "an analogue of Albee's view of human relationship" (1973 11) and is otherwise, too, the central metaphor of the play. A shamanistic representation of the land­lady, the dog does condition Jerry's initiation into the world of relationships, or his “being-for-others.” Jerry's oblique reference to the dog's mythical counterpart Cerebus is to be understood in this context only Anderson's brilliant exposition of the play inevitably comes to our mind, as she stated:

The play might well be seen as a portrayal of a ritual confrontation with death and alienation in which Jerry acts the role of sha­man/guide who directs the uninitiated Peter through the initiatory rite necessary for Peter to achieve his maturity and autonomy. (1983 93)

One may not quarrel with the general tenor of Anderson's argument as it has certainly been cogently and convincingly pre­sented but one may definitely like to question her basic premise, which presupposes Jerry's role as shaman or guide and even cata­pults Peter to the centre-stage of dramatic action. The whole idea of Jerry acting as shaman/guide sounds preposterous since he himself being an unrealized soul has to make contact with himself ­first, which he does ritualistically only towards the end of play. And Peter, we discover, has simply been used as an easy tool by Jerry to execute his pre-meditated designs. To make the central figure by suggesting that it is for his convenience maturity that the initiation ritual is essentially performed is to misread the whole dynamics of Jerry-Peter relationship. Albee leaves us in no doubt about his own sympathies, which clearly lie with Jerry, since what happens to him is decidedly much more significant than what might happen to Peter. Moreover, Peter is simply being used as a sounding board by Jerry, who manipulates him whichever way he wants to. In fact, this kind of perfunctory connection between the two is what accounts mainly their symptomatic relationship.

However, going back to the question of detour response, we must examine Jerry's relationship with the dog, even the landlady, in somewhat finer details. The landlady, who is con­temptuously dismissed by Jerry as "a fat, ugly, mean, stupid, unwashed, misanthrope, cheap, drunken bag of garbage, had, it seems, tried to make him the object of her sweaty lust" (109). Every time she pressed to his body and mumbled about her room, he was about to thwart her seductive designs by saying, ''Love; wasn't yesterday enough for you and the day before?’’ (169). No doubt, he was able to combat the threat of her morbid, sensuality, but he failed to cure the obsess- ional neurosis she suffered from. When Jerry failed to respond to the landlady's crude, almost tyrannical sexuality. she tried to make contact with him through the dog. Contemplating the psychological plight of an isolated individual, Laing is believed to have said: ‘‘The last hope of breakthrough […] may be through a homosexual at­tachment or [...] may be with the other as child or animal’’ (1984 146). It is no coincidence that the dog only had to do with Jerry. The landlady, incidentally, is reminiscent of Eliot's lady in Portrait of a lady a middle-aged hag in love with a younger man. However, Jerry's landlady sought to project her own aggressive sexuality into her dog that almost always had an erection Besides, her identification with the dog is also complete. Jerry tells us that while eating hamburgers the dog made "sounds in his throat like a woman’’ (172). A little later, when the landlady learnt about her dog's sickness, her eyes "looked like the dog's eyes" (173). In a way, the dog becomes a symbol of her instinctual, biological reality, with a definitive in­tuitive content.

If seen in its proper perspective, the landlady's promiscuous relationship could have possibly afforded Jerry an opportunity for individuation. Being cut off from Eros, Jerry would have failed to experience this individuation, otherwise. He might have become an individualized soul if he had accepted the demands, however compulsive, of this heterosexual relationship. Jerry's attempts to feed the dog, and thus keep him away, show not only his kindness, but even calculated efforts to thwart the overweening demands of the landlady’s sexuality. It is a dif­ferent matter, that in denying her a sense of gratification, he was also denying himself an opportunity to get integrated. His at­tempt to poison the dog and thus kill it is almost a surrealistic attempt to kill the lady's unbridled, animal-like sexuality. No wonder, her bewildered lust is forgotten when dog falls ill and is instantly revived when the dog recovered his health. Jerry's absolute failure to make contact with the dog is his failure to re­late to the landlady, or rather failure of the Eros. Unable to revitalize itself, this dynamic principle of relatedness almost col­lapses upon itself, thus depotentiating Jerry's ability for contact outside himself. Even though it marks the failure of the relation­ship between Jerry and his landlady, it does signify his initiation into the world of relationships. On the basis of his experience, he learns two principles of relatedness, that "kindness and cruelty combined together at the same time, are teaching emotion" ( 176) and that direct contact is neither possible nor desirable. It was the lady who, in fact, took a `detour' in order to relate to him through the dog-the response he not only learnt and perfected but also practiced with Peter later.

In recalling the story of tile dog, Jerry is perhaps releasing "the repressed contents of memory" (Marcuse: 1970 186) through which the non-­repressive sublimation of Eros is achieved. But his discovery later that even this act of sublimation is self-defeating, as his failure to enter into a deeper bonding with Peter largely makes for the failure of Eros witnessed in his case. Moreover, since his initiation into “being -for-others” is pathological, he could not have possibly cultivated his response for normal and healthy re­lationships. This peculiar condition, where choices were invaria­bly foisted upon him, hardly left him any scope for authentic ex­istence. Coupled with this fact is Jerry's ‘‘ontological insecu­rity,’’ (Laing: 1984 42) which drove him into forging a temporary connection with Peter. A survey of the circumstances under which they both met could be quite revealing. No doubt, Jerry had chosen the place, but certainly not the person he was going to enter into a li­aison with. On a Sunday afternoon in Summer, he happened to have a purely accidental meeting with Peter. It is not too fantas­tic to suggest that someone else would have served his cause just as well as Peter did. In fact, Jerry's interest in Peter's personal identity, even topology, is never more than mere perfunctory. His opening gambit, "I've been to the zoo ... I said, I've been to the zoo, MISTER I'VE BEEN TO THE ZOO!" (159) reveals his obsessive compulsive need to unburden himself, which as we soon discover, he could effect with total disregard to other per­son's wishes. He could not care less as to who became the recep­tacle for his pathological outpourings. His self-absorption is symptomatic, as much as is his desire to inflict himself on Peter.

Right form the beginning, it is apparent that Jerry is setting up an "I-It" equation by forging a unilateral bond, meant for his personal catharsis only. Peter is almost never taken into account.

Initially, on being disturbed, he is anxious to get back to his reading and simply nods assent to avoid confrontation. He keeps a straight face as long as he can. But once a determined Jerry decides to impose his own will, saying:

Do you mind if we talk?" Peter has no choice but to say, "Why […] no, no," though we know, he is "obviously minding it." A little later, Jerry offers a clarification, "But every once in a while I like to talk to somebody, really talk; like to get to know somebody, know all about him. (161)

    The conversation that ensues shows, very clearly, that Jerry is not so much interested in talking to or about Peter as he is in talking at Peter. For a person like Jerry, who is habituated to a detour response, authentic communication is almost unattainable. Jerry’s interest in Peter's personal life-hood may not be wholly perfunctory, it is not even suggestive of a deeper psychic engagement, which could have been a prelude to an abiding friendship.

Motivated by a desire to gain psychological advantage, Jerry's inquisition of Peter is reminiscent of George's interest in Nick's life-hood. Like George, Jerry, too, would like to know all he call about Peter's personal life so that he can exercise pressure upon him by constantly mounting verbal offensives against him. After incisive questioning, Peter's revelation that he has "two children.." "both girls," only meets with a mocking reproach from Jerry, "But that's the way cookie crumbles" (161). Having made Peter confess, "There are ... there are two parakeets. One… uh... one for each of my daughters" (162), he suddenly brings it up a little later, that too, in response to Peter's perfectly simply, nonchalant remark and says, "Look! Are you going to tell me to get married and have parakeets" (167). In the begin­ning, while discussing "lung cancer," quite hesitantly, Peter of­fers a medical term "prosthesis" for the disease that struck Freud, but Jerry is hardly appreciative when he says:

“The very thing! A prosthesis's. You're an educated men, aren't you?” And immedi­ately he flings another question “Are you a doctor?" Peter's honest response, “Oh, no; no. I read about it somewhere: Time magazine I think,” again evokes a disparaging comment from Jerry, "Well Time magazine isn't for blockheads.” (I60)

 This process of systematic, sustained manipulation of Peter, which starts rather early on in the play, only becomes more pronounced as the play progresses. With his helplessness mounting, Peter feels more and more hemmed in as the action proceeds. Though never quite known for his initiative, Peter is systematically re­duced by Jerry to a mere object—someone who has no will of his own and must always be acted upon.

Once the Story of Jerry and the Dog is over, Peter starts feeling disturbed and wants to get back home, but Jerry does not allow him to do so. Even during the narration of the story, there is a stage when Peter indicates his increasing displeasure and slowly growing antagonism, but Jerry refuses to loosen his grip over him. In fact, the stage directions suggest very clearly that the story should be so narrated as to achieve the hypnotic effect on Peter. And needless to say, Jerry does it with aplomb. His management of Peter, especially in the last scene, almost reflects his directorial hold over Peter, the actor. Peter is systematically aroused by Jerry to fight for that bench, parakeets, cats, daugh­ters, wife and finally his manhood. And each time he repeats "fight," he slaps Peter and even spits on his face. Though Peter holds the knife firmly in his hand, he refuses to attack, and fi­nally it is Jerry who impales himself on it. Until the last moment, Jerry remains in firm control of the situation, manipulating and guiding Peter's reactions, movements or gestures. In more ways than one, thus "I-It" equation comes into play, effectively dramatizing the symptomatic nature of Jerry-Peter relationship.

As a matter of fact, the symptomatic nature of their relation­ship has been anticipated in the play through some early refer­ences to the images of death, disease and sickness. "Lung can­cer," "prosthesis," "rotten teeth" are some of the signifiers which do set up a prelude to this relationship. A few verbal exchanges, too, serve to reinforce this feeling. Once Jerry tells Peter, rather blatantly, "you make me sick" (180) and on another occasion, talking about the birds, he asks, "Do they carry disease?" (167) His mention of the dog's sickness and its near death is only too well known to be repeated here. It is not merely the physical presence of the malady that makes for the symptomatic character of this relationship. The other characteristics of this equation, too, fit in rather well. For instance, in several ways already noted, Peter does become a willing accomplice in the game of perfunctory connection Jerry is enacting. Peter has surrendered his will to Jerry to such a pathological extent that even if he now wants to, Jerry cannot enter into a deeper engagement with him. That is probably what makes Jerry squirm at Peter's ingrained habit of politeness and later firm up his resolve to ensure Pe­ter's participation in whatever manner lie can. But Peter's puerile complacency, it seems, can only be shaken up, if Jerry switches over to more offensive modes of behavior.

Though most of his acts of aggression are geared towards provoking, even activating Peter, Jerry's uncontrollable aggres­sion clearly suggests how, in his case, Thanatos has failed to sublimate itself in the service of 'Eros.' The perversion of Eros precipitated largely by Jerry's inauthentic mode of existence, and its consequent failure, has seemingly made his flight away from Eros and towards `Thanatos' a probability. Much of the tyran­nical violence Jerry either shows or exercises towards Peter is essentially the outcome of this peculiar subliminal process. He pokes and punches Peter's arm to gain control of the bench, which is a grave provocation for ‘‘a petty bourgeois’’ (Debausscher: 1969 12) like Peter, who seems to thrive on the principle of ownership. It is no coin­cidence that his latent aggression begins to manifest itself only when he starts telling Peter as to what really happened at the zoo, and, in doing so, realizes, with almost epiphanic clarity, his own loneliness and even gradual corruption of Eros. When he says that everyone is separated by bars from everyone else, inter­estingly enough, he is talking about animals and people in the same breath. And talking about the animal behavior, as it were, almost unconsciously prompts him to start behaving like wild animals. In this respect, it is instructive to refer to what Morris has to say about the mutual relationship between men and animals. In his famous book The Human Zoo, he emphasizes the fact that the man's affinity with annuals is primordial (1981).

After he surrenders his linguistic option to get through to Peter, Jerry almost feels compelled to take recourse to a primi­tive, animalistic mode of physical contact. By no means does this ensure that he is able to break through the bars. In fact, all his as­sertions about the zoo and the animal behavior are easily borne out by his own captivity-consciousness and standardized re­sponse-patterns. His impetuous tickling and later repeated punching of Peter's arm shows it clearly how eager Jerry is to make physical, if not the psychic, connection. It is even argued, without much substance though, that Jerry's sudden hostility of Peter towards the end is meant to dislodge him from the bench. The argument is as flimsy as it sounds. For one, Jerry's hostility is not all too abrupt as we have seen already. Secondly, his effort is not so much to dislodge Peter as it is to incite and provoke him. Even when he tells Peter, "Get off this bench, I want it" (180), he does not mean it. It is his way of saying, no matter what happens, Peter would never be allowed to assume a superior role in this relationship, and that he must always stay at the receiving end. The mounting tension, however, also strikes a preparatory note for the final act of suicide that climaxes the play. Stenz has rightly pointed out that ‘‘the final act is, by no means, an unpremeditated one’’ (1978 5).

 Rutenberg stated that ‘‘[s]everal critics, who emphasize the lack of design in Jerry's final act, tend to misperceive both his and the playwright's intended purpose’’ (1970 28). Right from the moment Jerry enters the stage, his mind seems to have been made up. His pre­diction "You will read about it in the paper tomorrow if you don't see it on your T.V. tonight" (160) shows both deliberate­ness and preparedness on his part. A little later, when he de­clares, "I'll start walking around in a little while and eventually I'll sit down. (Recalling) Wait until you see the expression oil his face" (163) again, there is a premeditated air about it. Com­pletely astounded, when Peter exclaims, "What! Whose face? Jerry simply fobs him off. By no means an eccentric on the verge of suicide,"(Wendell: 1964 254). Jerry is very well aware of the role he is playing. Perhaps this is what prompted Amacher (1982 34) to declare him an ‘‘existential hero’’.

    Though this does not make Jerry’s life more authentic than it is, he certainly does exercise his choice, even discriminative faculty, while assigning the role he thinks is fit for Peter. Constant imposition of choices on his life-patterns has also woken Jerry up to the inevitability of his ultimate fate. Failure of Eros was apparently quite clear to him even  before he appeared; and what he needed was perhaps a direct admission of it. If seen in these terms, Jerry’s total encounter with Peter, already characterized as symptomatic relationship, becomes a ‘detour’ for the final act of self-destruction. And the conversation he strikes up even helps through, perhaps no more than a mere ploy to keep off the impinging consciousness of death as long as he can. Morris has rightly pointed out that the ‘‘frustration of dominance struggle might lead to the re-direction of aggression against the self’’ (1981 60). He is of the view that this  redirected aggregation is also one of the main causes of suicide. Dismissed as ‘‘an action of ultimate futile contact’’ (Anon: 1964 166) or glorified as a “religious sacrifice’’ (Bigsby: 1978 33). Jerry’s act of suicide could easily be mediated in the terms of Tylor, a famous British sociologist, who has theorized about the whole dynamics of suicide. In his words, it could, at best, be described as “thanatation” (1986), an act of suicide attempted by an individual who, being uncertain of his identity, often knows no other way, except this, of normal relatedness or that of validating his existence. In such circumstances, claiming one’s own life or confronting death-consciousness is found to be an easier option in comparison with a head-on confrontation with the uncertainty of life-situations. Taylor’s theoretical formulation almost appears to be tailor-made to comprehend Jerry’s peculiar and somewhat mystifying situation.

In this effort to validate his existence, he has seemingly already exhausted all his reserves, indicated by the political failure of Eros in his case. Normal ways of relatedness have apparently eluded him all along and death consciousness has to be exorcised sooner than later. In this respect, it is important to consider rather carefully the stage directions of Albee, especially at that point of time when Jerry’s act of dying is described. Initially when Jerry impales himself on the knife, he screams like a fatally wounded animal, but as he is dying his expression seems to change. His features relax and for the most part he seems removed from his dying. Jerry’s participation yet distancing from his own dying is rather fascinating. He appears to have gained a calm objectivity, which springs from his realization of having made the final contact, if not with Peter, at least with his own deeper self. his action is both an act of affirmation and denial at the same time. It is an affirmation of his self-commitment, but it is also of his individual will, as he loses out to Peter perhaps the only opportunity he had of exercising his will or initiative. However, by sending Peter away finally, he brings his life, even the play, to be a befitting finale. Having lived in a state of final isolation all through, he must inevitably die in the very same state. To borrow Amacher’s words, ‘‘the absurdity of survival in the twentieth century is dramatized thus with particularly Grecian effectiveness’’ (1982 42).

    However, if we were to go along with the critical opinion that emphasizes Peter and Jerry’s role as each other’s ‘‘ double’’ (Bennet: 1977 60), and not necessarily as polar opposites, the final act of Jerry would then be seen as an act of assertion. It is a wounded howl of protest against the society or humanity, at large, which imposed on him the kind of life that he perhaps never wanted to lead. It certainly points towards the fact that if the society did not initially allow him the kind of life he wanted to lead, now it cannot even dissuade him from taking his life in the manner in which he proposes to. Since his aggregation  is primarily directed against himself, his hostility of Peter being only its manifest symptom, so in lashing out at Peter, he is simply lacerating himself. In making Peter realize a sense of emptiness, he is simply peeping into  his own and in an effort  to help him understand the importance of making a choice in life, Jerry is, in a way, gaining ‘‘partially self-recognition’’ (Stenz: 1978 11). It is perhaps in this sense that a play about a symptomatic relationship also becomes, through an ironic twist, a play about ‘‘affirmation of life’’ (Baxandall: 1965 38). It is another matter that this kind of realization has little meaning for Jerry personally, as in his case, ‘gain is also a loss’.  His moment of awareness, per­haps freedom, is also his moment of death. So whatever he gains by way of an insight, he loses when the symptomatic relation­ship, which made it possible breaks down completely.

Towards the end, a sudden change in the tone and language of Jerry does suggest that having resolved his conflict through death, he has now donned the priestly mantle and is trying to talk the audience out of their death consciousness. Experiencing the play thus, we return from the arena of action, not in despair but in calm, our death consciousness fully exorcised. Often, such an exorcism is what a section of critics passes off as "redemp­tion" (Bennet: 1977 52). Regardless of how the final impact of the play is seen, Albee's treatment of the symptomatic relationship in The Zoo Story is not merely an expose of an individual's personal psy­chopathology, but also that of the culture to which he belongs. In a manner of speaking, Jerry's symptoms are the symptoms of the social situation of which he is an intrinsic part. The bars that separate him from the animals are also the bars that separate him from us, even others. To see Jerry in action, ever interaction is to see him in the process of acting out his deeper symptoms. Though Albee does succeed in presenting a sustained diagnosis, even critique of the contemporary disease, he refuses to offer easy solutions or remedies. In this respect, words of Big­sby inevitably come to mind, when he says that Albee "is more concerned with exposing the disease than with treating the symptoms" (1978 112). Jerry's death could have possibly led him, even us, into a certain degree of transcendence, only if he had died in a state of awareness and not for it. Since he sees death primarily as a means of resolving the uncertainty of life, his symptomatic relationship with Peter fails to materialize into a form of therapy. If it had, perhaps the relationship would have ceased to be symptomatic and instead, become a transformative one. For summing up the discussion, we may return, once again, to Paolucci who says:

The Zoo Story is by far the most perfectly realized of Albee's early plays, a flawless gem. Nowhere else in the early works is the exis­tential vacuum drawn so boldly to resemble powerful affirmation, the pessimistic intention of the author so beautifully realized in the shape of art. (Morris: 1981 44)

While The Zoo Story has been praised for its originality and dramatic strength, Everything in the Garden has been severely castigated for being a weak adaptation, even a theatrical fiasco. Considering that these two plays appeared within less than a decade of each other, any attempt to trace thematic continuity between them might appear presumptuous, if not misdirected. Despite the obvious differences, there is a strange continuity of concern that seems to bind the two plays together. On careful consideration, we might even figure out that one tends to serve as a prelude to the other. In a way, Everything in the Garden picks up threads, once again, from where The Zoo Story had left them in the first place.

 In Everything in the Garden, Albee wants to explore the etiology of class-differences, and its strange, often bizarre link­ages with the process of upward social mobility. Though it ap­parently deals with a "lower-upper-middle-class" suburban cou­ple's desperate struggle to move into the "upper-middle-middle class," it also portrays, with equal urgency, the whole matrix of the spatial movement from the city to the suburbia. Peter, a petty bourgeois, who had suddenly disappeared towards the end of The Zoo Story (and about whose life we did not know much then), surfaces again in Everything in the Garden as Richard. However, this time he does not appear alone, as would only be expected, but accompanied by his wife, Jenny, who had not even been named in The Zoo Story and his son, Roger, who had per­haps remained an unfulfilled, repressed desire in the earlier situation. The play does not revolve around Richard alone, though, in many ways, it seeks to trace the process of his gradual absorption into the synthetic pageant of decadence. In a way, the whole dynamics of familial corruption, enacting itself out in the suburbia finds a chilling though not-so-chiseled an expres­sion in this play. Caught in the spiral of social mobility, Richard-Jenny and several other couples like them, it appears, go on a merry-go-round, only to discover that they have, in the process, lost out on all those suburban values they had lived by, all along. If The Zoo Story serves to highlight the psychopathology of the individual culminating in suicide, Everything in the Gar­den brings into focus the slow process of moral corruption and decay that ultimately destroys the very fabric of suburban life. Incidentally, it is the searching portrayal of death, disease and decay, in all their manifestations; physical, moral and psycho­logical that is symptomatic of both the plays. For this reason, it does make sense to read these plays from the vantage point of the symptomatic relationship. However, it must be admitted that Everything in the Garden certainly lacks in perspective, focus and intensity, qualities that often characterize some of Albee's other plays.

Dismissed by Brustein as "an extraordinary stratagem and subterfuge" (1965 25) and ridiculed by Amacher as the "gentle art of stealing" (1982 143), Albee's Everything in the Garden, an adaptation of Giles Cooper, has had the misfortune of receiving bad reviews, fairly consistently. Lahr's criticism of the play as a "bad adaptation" (1968, p. 37) is, however, not so much a denunciation of the play's thematic concern as it is an attack on its lack of the­atrical power and gusto. In theatrical terms, this play may not have much to offer, but thematically, it does dramatize the spec­tacular process of how an entire way of life represented by the suburbia, with its social mores and cultural practices, slowly falls into ruins and dies away. Defending his own position in this re­gard, Albee is believed to have stated, "Cooper's play acted a catalyst and set me working my own variations on his theme’’ (1967 II: I). Set against the spectacle of decay and decadence, the thematics of Everything in the Garden is primarily constituted in terms of a complex network of relationships involving different dramatic characters, all of whom ultimately gravitate towards, even get focalized upon Mrs. Toothe, the main character in the play.

Though it is not quite apparent, Mrs. Toothe is the one who could be said to constitute the focal point of action in the play. In course of the play, she appears only twice first in Act I and then in Act II and each time, rather briefly. This might create an im­pression that she only has marginal or peripheral significance within the total framework of the play. If proper evaluation of her role and function has to be attempted, it is necessary to see how in his characterization, Albee has taken recourse to the symbolic rather than the spatial mode. In effect, what it means is that the relative significance of a particular character does not have to be assessed either in terms of the physical space allotted to him or his physical presence or absence, but in terms of the influence a particular character exercises upon the lives of those around him. This was thought necessary as, on the the­matic level, too, the play seeks to trace the trajectory of the cen­trifugal, spatial movement from the city to the suburbia. For this reason, regardless of her marginal presence, it is Mrs. Toothe who controls, governs and regulates both the pace and momen­tum of dramatic action in the play. It is interesting to see how her influence is pervasive and easily extends far beyond the frontiers of physical presence. If she manages to sail in and out of the dramatic action, it is only because, each time, her entry into the scene is a much-awaited, prepared-for event. In fact, much be­fore she enters, Jenny is seen arguing her case with Richard, that too, rather spiritedly. It is apparent that the verbal sparring both husband and wife engage in, when the play opens, has been oc­casioned by her suggestion. The differences, essentially, surface between the couple only because Jenny is more receptive to her ideas, while Richard is suspiciously resistant to them. Jenny is insistent upon accepting a job offer, which has apparently been made to her by Mrs. Toothe. It is another matter that she is totally oblivious about the nature of job, as much as she is about Mrs. Toothe's personal or business background. All she is able to tell Richard is, "I might be able to help at the hospital one or two afternoons a week" (Albee: 1982 22). Later, when she actually decides to accept the offer do the real implications of Mrs. Toothe's sug­gestion dawn upon her. Even towards the end of the play, long after Mrs. Toothe has left, Jenny and Richard are seen talking about her "new house," and worse still, are also debating the possibility of planting "flowers and shrubs" in her garden (200).

It is as though in her absence, her ominous, shadowy pres­ence lingers in the atmosphere, settling heavy upon the shoulders of other characters. As soon as she enters, she assumes a stern di­rectorial role, guiding, controlling, manipulating, even distorting the gestures, movements, actions as also the values of the char­acters she presides over. During her first appearance, she leaves quite an impact upon Jenny, even Jack, owing to her self-­assured, business-like tactfulness and almost cold, metallic re­serve and reticence. Least perturbed by the presence of Jack, whom she mistakes for Jenny's husband initially, she introduces herself with aplomb, "I'm Mrs. -Thoothe and your wife has been kind enough to . . ." (33). Even when Jack poses to be a secret admirer of "lovely Jenny," much to Jenny's own discomfiture, she simply stands by and watches, most unobtrusively. Though she is rather circumspect, even taciturn in his presence, speaking mostly in clipped, measured tones, not even once does she lose sight of her own business interests. Once Jack goes off-stage, back into her characteristic, cold, business-like tone, she an­nounces, "This is business. Strictly business" (37), refusing, however, to divulge the real nature of the business. More than her impersonal efficiency, it is her taciturnity that arouses our suspicion of her real motives and intentions. Forearmed with sound information about her needs, expectations and desires, she tells Jenny, "I'm told you need a job?" (37) It is quite apparent that she believes in piling up a neat dossier on Jenny, even others, as this does seem to give her a definite advantage over others, a su­periority that ultimately becomes a pretext for her domination, and their abject, willing surrender to her might.

Mrs. Toothe's attempts at intimidating, browbeating Jenny with a barrage of questions are, certainly reminiscent of Jerry's efforts at cornering Peter. While Jerry's intention was mainly to provoke and activate Peter, Mrs. Toothe's appears to have been motivated by a compulsive desire to assert her sovereign will and superior authority over others. Her domineering attitude, bor­dering almost on high-handedness, stems partly from her knowl­edge about the subversive money power she wields herself; and partly from her outwardly directed aggression emanating from Thanatos. Conscious of the fact that the notion of subversive money power is rooted deep in the libidinal centers of American psyche, she has seemingly perfected the art of exploiting it to promote her own business interests. This is what makes her more of an insider in the American capitalist system than either Rich­ard or Jenny, the Native Americans, could claim to be. However, the fact that she is of British origin does help her maintain a cer­tain detached aloofness, which gives us the impression that she is, at once, a collaborator in and a destroyer of the system to which she belongs. Her disgust, even deep-seated hostility for the American people, or society comes through a single cutting remark, when on being asked by Jenny how she is able to "tell a lover from a friend," she retorts, "because in this country they are very seldom the same" (41). Undoubtedly, she shares a love-hate relationship with the American capitalist system, and this is cer­tainly reflected in the ambivalence of her dual role as an insider-­outsider. No wonder, her reticence or taciturnity appears to be more of a mask that tends to conceal her real face. Behind a calm exterior is a mind that is forever planning, plotting, conniving, rather insidiously. Never quite transparent in her motives, she often works her way through veiled innuendoes and insidious suggestions. Although she has already made up her mind about luring Jenny into her trap, she goes about it with a great deal of restraint, even unconcern. While casually throwing a bundle of thousand dollar bills on the burning logs, she is quite self-assured about the subversive power of money and its tantalizing hold over people's imagination. Fully alive to its utility and effi­cacy in social interaction, she believes that everything is ulti­mately convertible in money, "this house is money, that garden […] those clothes you are wearing, it's all money, isn't it?" (41)

More than a mere expression of her materialistic stance, it reveals a certain cast of mind that is attuned to money-thinking, converting not just things and goods but human beings, too, into objectified, marketable, purchasable commodities. Objecti­fication or commodification of human beings is what prompts her into treating them as “sex” objects, whose market potential she is ready to exploit in the protected environs of suburbia, away from the prying eyes. By thus setting up a profitable flesh-trade, she willy-nilly becomes an agent of sexual corruption or moral perversity that centers into the suburbia rather surreptitiously and slowly becomes an accepted norm. by thus overturning the value-system of the suburbia, she succeeds in inflicting her implosives, latent hostility, not so much upon other characters, who are more than willing to become instruments of her superior will, but upon the life-force, Eros itself. At this stage, it might be asked, and that too, for legitimate reasons, as to why Mrs. Toothe allowed herself to become an agent of social destructiveness, or an instrumentality of sexual or moral corruption. In order to understand the dynamics of her psychopathology, it is important to construct her past experiences and analyze the contents of her repressed memory. Although she is introduced to us as Mrs. Toothe, nowhere in the play do we find her reflecting on or talking about her marital situation. It is also not made very explicit as to whether or not she was ever married. In view of this, it is safe to infer that she probably assumed this identity for herself mainly with the idea of camouflaging her real motives and gaining all the advantage she could of social respectability. This assumed identity appears to have given her a semblance of immunity, even audacity, to go about her clandestine business without the least fear of getting caught. Incidentally, nothing much is made known about her childhood or youth, except that she had spent the better part of her life in London, that too, around World War II. Though a long time has elapse since the chilling terror of those years, it appears to be fresh in her bones. And the moment she starts reflecting, all the nightmarish horror of those days returns, breaking through her staccato utterances, “All those nights in the shelters, with the death going on. Death and dying. Always take the former if you can” (192).

Beyond a doubt, she did experience death—and violence-as she indicates, from very close quarters, and that too, on a massive scale. Though it was a collective experience, her encounter with death seems to have left her completely shattered; what is more, it has apparently not been assimilated into the contents of her individual consciousness. Her inability to come to terms with the personal vision of collective destructiveness has, undoubtedly released the aggressive hostility latent in Thanatos, making her into an instrument of social destructiveness. In this context, it would be instructive to recall the words of Marcuse, who says: ‘‘In a world of alienation, the liberation of Eros would necessarily operate as a destructive, fatal force as the total negation of the principle, which governs the repressive reality’’ (1970 85-86).

This explains how sex, the reductive principle of death, inevitably got de-linked from procreative, life-sustaining function, and became malignant, even depraved in Mrs. Tooth’s scheme of things. For a person in her situation, ordinarily the possibility of normal, healthy modes of relatedness is virtually blocked out; and hostility, hatred, perversity or vengeance are the only alternative modes left to him. Propensity for progressive alienation increases manifold; and unlike some other instances of symptomatic relationship where death becomes inevitable, a person does survive under such circumstances but lives in perennial opposition, hostility and antagonism to life, and its support system. Almost in the manner of Mrs. Toothe such a person lives not through positive assertion of his own identity (which she does not possess, anyway), but through negative modes of infliction, negation or rather corruption of the life processes. It is as though an individual’s relationship with the social world becomes merely a pretext for demonstrating the compulsions of his or her personal neurosis. If at the level of manifest behavior, Mrs. Toothe has failed to achieve emotional stability or adapt herself to the social reality around, on a more subliminal level, her death-instinct appears to be virtually in a state of revolt against her life-instinct. Her aberrations are, therefore, to be seen as flaws of her personal attitude, but more as the symptoms of her psychopathology. Apparently, most of her aberrations result from her ontological negativism or the hostility against Eros, thus neutralizing for her the possibility of experiencing an authentic existence. In Horney’s words, she always appears to be moving against people (1937), though she does  manage to create an impression to the contrary. Her sense of domination then is not a cultivated response, but a mere assertion of her malevolence. It is perhaps for this reason that while she does succeed in toppling over the value-system of the society she enters, she refuses to identify herself completely with it. This does help us see why, despite being an agent of social destruc­tiveness. Mrs. Toothe is not to be perceived as an emblematic representation of evil.




If Albee is first pre­senting the symptomatic relationship and then tying it up with the symbolic dichotomy of body/soul, he is emphasizing an im­portant fact. That the progressive absorption with the sympto­mology of the body/physical culture would inevitably lead the suburban society of America into a progressive decline of inter­est in its own moral, psychological and spiritual well-being.

To sum up, we may turn to Gould, whose appreciation of Albee's thematic artistry, though meant for a different con­text, could just as well be applied to Everything in the Garden. He says:

Albee speaks out with bold clarity in regard to the false values of a mechanized civilization, the vapidity of a man grown soft with the comforts of modern invention, the destruc­tive force of unvaried, encroaching uniformity, and the decay beneath the shiny surface of a neon society (1966 286).


Noorbakhsh Hooti[1]

Cited Works



Albee, E. The Future Belongs to Youth, New York Times Sunday Drama Section,


November 26, 1967, II: I.



------------. The Zoo Story in Absurd Drama. Penguin Books, 1978.



Amacher, R. E. Edward Albee. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.



Anderson, M.C. Ritual and Initiation in The Zoo Story. Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays, Julian N. Wassermann ed., Houston, Texas: University of Saint. Thomas, 1983.



Anon., ‘‘Towards a Theatre of Cruelty’’, Times Literary Supplement, 27 February 1964, 166.



Baxandal, L. ‘‘The Theatre of Edward.’’ Tulane Drama Review, 9, Summer 1965, 38.



Bennet, R.B. “Tragic Vision in The Zoo Story.” Modern Drama, 20 March 1977, 60.



Bigsby, C.W. Edward Albee. New York: Chip’s Bookshop, 1978.



Brustein. R. “Albee at the Cross Roads,” New Republic, 157, 16 Dec. 1967, 25.



Burber, M. I-Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith, Edinburg: T and T Clark, 1958.



Debusscher, G. Edward Albee: Tradition and Renewal, Brussels: Brussels Centre for American Studies, 1969. 


Gould, J.R. “Edward Albee and the Current Scene.” In Modern Amewrican Playwrights. New York: Dodd, 1966, 286.



Hayman, R. Edward Albee, New York: Fred Ugner, 1973.



Lahr, J. “The Adaptable Mr. Albee,” Everygreen Review, 32, May 1968, 37.



Laing, R. D. The Divided Self, London: Penguin, 1984.



Marcuse, H. Eros and Civilization, London: Penguin, 1970.



Morris, D. The Human Zoo, New York: Laurel, 1981.



Paolucci, A. From Tension to Tonic: The Plays of Edward Albee, Carbondale: Southern Illionois University Press, 1972.



Rutenberg, M.E. Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest, New York: Avon Discus, 1970.


Stenz, A. M. Edward Albee: Poet of Loss, The Hague: Mouton, 1978.



Tylor, S. ‘‘Durkheim and the Study of Suicide’’ in Science Today, November 1986.



Wendell, H. Morality, “Absurdity and Albee.” Southern Review, 44, 1964, 254.



[1] Assistant Professor, Razi University, Faculty of Arts, English Department, Kermanshah, Iran. E-mail:, Phone No: +98 912 593 5460.