Zoot Suit

Zoot Suit Summary and Analysis of Part 3


After Alice and George leave, Pachuco asks Henry if he really thinks he stands a chance, seemingly dubious. Henry is now more confident that they might win the case.

Scene 9. Opening of the Trial. The Press says, "The largest mass trial in the history of Los Angeles County opens this morning in the Superior Court at ten A.M. The infamous Sleepy Lagoon Murder case involves sixty-six charges against twenty-two defendants with seven lawyers pleading for the defense, two for the prosecution."

Judge Charles enters, "played by the same actor that portrays Edwards." George stands and says that the District Attorney has forbidden the defendants to have clean clothes or haircuts in the 3 months since they were arrested, and suspects that the court is trying to make the boys look even more disreputable. "The zoot haircuts will be retained throughout the trial for purposes of identification of the defendants by witnesses," Judge Charles says, matter-of-fact-ly.

Judge Charles then says that the Jury is already having a difficult time distinguishing the defendants. George asks to be able to sit with his clients during the trial, but Charles denies his request. George objects, stating that he and his clients are being obstructed from their natural rights in the courtroom.

The first witness is Lieutenant Sam Edwards, but Pachuco decides that they've already heard from him, since he is portrayed by the same actor playing Judge Charles. The defense calls Adela Barrios to the stand. Della testifies that she and Henry drove out to Sleepy Lagoon around 11:30 on the night of the murder.

Scene 10. Sleepy Lagoon. As Della testifies, we see what transpired. There is a full moon, and she tells the court that the Lagoon was empty when they arrived. She says they walked around the reservoir until they heard music coming from the Williams' Ranch, where some Mexican families live. "You know, their name used to be Gonzalez, but they changed it to Williams," says Henry.

In a scene from the night at the Lagoon, Henry asks Della what she will do if he doesn't come back from the war. He tells her that he's always felt like "there's a big party going on someplace...but I don't know how to get there." He then asks her to marry him if he gets back from the war, and alludes to the fact that her father won't approve.

Rafas pulls up with some friends in another car, and Della tells the court that Rafas busted up the windows on Henry's car. She says that Henry went to confront Rafas and about 10 of the other gang members, alone. "After they left, I ran down to Henry and held him in my arms until he came to," she says, before saying that Henry then wanted to go get the other members of the 38th Street Gang.

She says it took them an hour to get the boys and come back to the Lagoon and that they arrived with about eight cars, but the Downey gang wasn't there. They all go to the Williams' Ranch, where they hear raucous noise. As they arrive, the Downey gang emerges and attacks them. A huge fight breaks out, and Della says that she saw someone hitting a man with a big stick, over and over. She says, "Driving back in the car, everybody was quiet, like nothing had happened. We didn't know José Williams had died at the party that night and that the guys would be arrested the next day for murder."

Scene 11. The Conclusion of the Trial. Press, who plays the prosecution, questions Della about the details: the fact that Henry struck José at one point, and that José had a knife. Press then asks about the fact that Smiley Torres allegedly grabbed a woman's hair and kicked her to the ground, before calling Smiley to the stand. He questions Della about whether she saw Joey hitting another man with a two-by-four.

When Press asks Della if Henry was carrying a lead pipe, she tells him that he was not, as he was hurt from the beating. Press manipulates all of Della's testimony, and asks if Henry had a weapon, but Della insists he did not. George continues to object and the judge dismisses Della from the stand. As he does, he insists that she be sent to the Ventura State School for Girls for a year.

During a break, Henry is discouraged, but George assures him that they are going to win on appeal. As the judge comes back into the courtroom, he announces that they will hear the prosecution's concluding statement. Press stands and makes a statement about the crime wave taking place in the city. He suggests that if the members of the 38th Street Gang are set free, they will be turned into heroes, invoking the threat of rape, drugs, assault, and violence.

George then rises and makes his own statement. He suggests that he is trying to fight "racial intolerance and totalitarian injustice." He references the fact that the prosecution has not provided one witness who saw the killing, ending his statement saying, "Find them guilty of murder and you will murder the spirit of racial justice in America."

The jury finds the defendants guilty and sentences them to life imprisonment. After the trial, Rudy goes over to Henry and hugs him. George and Alice insist that they will appeal the decision as the first act ends.


El Pachuco is not simply a straightforward moral center or guardian angel, but a more complex trickster and devil's advocate. After Alice and George leave, he questions Henry about whether he actually believes he can win the case. When Henry says, "I think I got a chance," Pachuco says, "Just because that white broad says so?" Pachuco is not challenging Henry in earnest, but asking slippery questions in order to get Henry to really consider his situation. Thus, Pachuco proves true the description of him at the beginning of the play as "a mythical, quizzical, frightening being/precursor of revolution/Or a piteous, hideous heroic joke/deserving of absolution."

As George points out in court, there are many obstacles to the defendants pleading their case. One of the first statements he makes is about the fact that the members of the 38th Street Gang have been forbidden from receiving haircuts and clean clothes in the three months since they were arrested. He suggests that this is because the court does not want the boys cleaning up or looking remotely trustworthy in court. In this detail, we see that the defendants must not only prove their innocence, but battle the atrocious prejudices and sabotage of the court system itself.

The play uses many surprising theatrical devices to switch between moments in time and different realities. For instance, during Della's testimony, as she stands and speaks to the court, the stage around her transforms into the lagoon on the night of the murder. The stage directions tells us that "El Pachuco creates the scene...We see a shimmering pattern of light on the floor growing to the music." Valdez uses theater to invite the audience into Della's memory, into the past itself.

The play concerns the struggle between justice and prejudice. George fights on behalf of the 38th Street Gang members on the basis of the fact that they did not commit the crime they are being charged with. He sees their arrest as symbolic of a broader prejudice against them, not only as gang members, but as Hispanics. Indeed, the prosecution does not fight hard to prove that any of the gang members committed the murder, instead choosing to focus on the fact that the gang is part of a huge crime wave taking place in the city. The prosecution barely covers up the fact that its perspective has more to do with broader worries about Mexican criminals than it does with the actual case at hand. This very logic flies in the face of the ethic of the criminal justice system, in that it divorces truth from consequence entirely.

This section ends with the jury finding the 38th Street Gang members guilty of murder. The judge sentences them to life imprisonment, and the fate of the boys does not look good. As Pachuco says, "Once a Mexican goes in, he never comes out." However, George and Alice are confident that they will be able to appeal the decision and save the boys from imprisonment. The act ends on a note of suspense, as the audience adjourns to wait and see what will happen to the 38th Street Gang.