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An Analysis of Edward Albee's Plays

Updated on February 24, 2016

Lets Get Social

In our society there are certain social contracts that are imposed upon people. As such people often are too busy projecting the person that they believe they should be instead of who they really are. When conforming to these predetermined social roles it is nearly impossible to have any real connection with another human being, who is conforming to these same rules. This is shown clearly within both “The Zoo Story” and “The Sandbox” written by Edward Albee through the use of characters, dialog and conflict.

Mommy and Daddy
Mommy and Daddy | Source

Does YOUR Name Define You?

Through the characters personalities and names Albee better shows the domestication of the males in these plays. In the play “The Sandbox” the characters Mommy and Daddy are shown in an extreme version of social roles. Daddy in this play is basically used for money, he doesn’t have any real opinions his wife Mommy basically controls him; some might see this as a type of love but that would likely just be wishful thinking. Mommy is your average overbearing wife destroying all of his free will and spending her time shopping (all of which is stereotypical of suburban life). The names of the characters themselves are telling the audience the roles that they are in (if they had a living child of course) and the actions just drive the point home. In “The Zoo Story” there are only two actual characters, Jerry and Peter. Just as in “The Sandbox” the married one, Peter, is what Jerry calls a vegetable. Peter brings home the money but it is made obvious by the things that he lets Jerry do and say to him, that he has no real say in anything and is a submissive person (although it could be assumed that he once was as dominate as Jerry, and he has just been neutered by his societal role). Jerry on the other hand is not married, and does not have the type of life that society deems he should (i.e. married with children, and a parakeet). He is what could be called a social outsider or outcast. He rarely has any interaction with others and when he does, he doesn’t seem to describe it as a positive thing.

Depending on who is involved, we speak and act a certain way.
Depending on who is involved, we speak and act a certain way. | Source

Lets Talk

Dialog is an important part of both of these plays and through the words of these characters Albee shows this distance they have between each other and those that are supposed to be close to them. The relationships that Jerry describes having (with other humans) involved him and his landlady, who he describes a relatively disgusting human being, and with what can be assumed to be hookers (ladies he loves once and never gets to see again). This doesn’t give the idea that being an outsider is a pleasant thing but on the same note Peter seems miserable in a less obvious way. Where Jerry still has the ability to fight back Peter has been completely domesticated. Jerry repeatedly yells at him, actually calling him a vegetable, and invades his personal space yet Peter just takes it. Even Peter’s choice in pets comes up in their conversations, he isn’t allowed to have a dog (which is considered more manly) he ends up getting parakeets and cats (obviously decided upon by his wife). Also in the play “The Sandbox” it is shown that their marriage is a superficial one, they have meaningless conversations about the colors of hats and small injustices but the responses given by Daddy are either coxed out of him by Mommy or don’t contribute to the conversations in any way (not that the conversations they have hold any weight). The only things they discuss are ridiculous on the surface topics, neither one really putting in an effort.

The Zoo Story, takes place on a bench...
The Zoo Story, takes place on a bench... | Source
When we rebel against the norm, you are seen as hostile, weird, or harsh even.
When we rebel against the norm, you are seen as hostile, weird, or harsh even. | Source

Those be fighting words..

The conflicts the that the characters face throughout these plays shows that they are barely reacting to each other and are basically just going through the motions. During the entire play “The Sandbox” it is obvious that Mommy makes all of the decisions, from putting her mother in a home, to what hat she should buy. It is clear to the audience that the character Grandma doesn’t approve of the marriage and is well aware the Mommy married Daddy for his money, Mommy dismisses this issue and so Daddy does as well showing with even more clarity the Daddy really is a vegetable. With Daddy being nothing more than a houseplant it is impossible for them to have a real relationship, Daddy is too busy falling in line and Mommy is too busy being a “wife” to bother to have an actual marriage. In “The Zoo Story” the conflicts involve two people who are not married, Jerry who seems a little insane (by our standards) and Peter who is a domesticated male. Jerry is constantly pushing at Peter so that they can have what he considers a real relationship, which is two living things acknowledging and reacting to each other (as he expresses in the story about the dog). Jerry is constantly trying to get Peter to react, but Peter being as domesticated by his societal role as he is, just takes the verbal and occasional physical abuse. Even in the end where Peter stabs Jerry, Jerry impales himself on the knife because Peter is such a “vegetable” that he still can't fight back after Jerry shows him how unstable he really is. Then after Peter injures Jerry, he freezes and Jerry is forced to tell him to leave, again showing how domesticated he really is Peter obeys.

Jerry and the Dog

What does it say?

In both of these plays it is shown that marriage (which is what society expects people of a certain age to do) domesticates men, making them no better than vegetables, and as such making a deep relationship impossible; because the people in these said relationships have no depth themselves. Albee seems to write all of his characters as flat, showing the audience that they are completely superficial. The only character that seems to go against society whether he was insane, or just intelligent enough to notice the social constraints imposed upon him, ends up dead. This poses the audience with two options, either conform to social rules and end up a flat and basically lifeless character or end up a social outcast and die an early death, both of which seem bleak.

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