Zoot Suit

Zoot Suit Summary and Analysis of Part 4


Act 2. Prologue. El Pachuco enters and introduces the new act as the scene shifts back to San Quentin Prison. Henry, Joey, Smiley, and Tommy are brought to their cells. Henry writes a letter to his family on March 3, 1943, about how lonely it is in jail, but how nice it is to receive mail.

Alice enters and recites a letter that she sends to the boys. She tells them she will be sending them news about their case twice a month, so that they can stay informed about what's going on with their appeal.

As the boys pursue various athletic activities in jail, Alice writes to them, reminding them to be on good behavior in jail, as their conduct reflects on their case. Smiley writes to Alice and tells her that his wife doesn't feel comfortable going door to door asking for money. "It isn't begging—it's fund-raising," says Alice, but Smiley doesn't want it to happen.

Tommy writes a letter thanking Alice for her help, but when she suggests that his vocabulary is good, he is offended and tells her she "better find out what it means to be Chicano, and it better be pretty damn quick." He tells her that he didn't do half the things the papers say they did, and that he knows that he is being locked up because of his association with Mexicans.

Joey writes to Alice and asks her to send a photograph of herself, and she obliges. She then writes them to tell them that on May 5, 1943, Cinco de Mayo, a radio program is running a news story about discrimination against Mexicans and against the 38th Street Gang in particular.

Scene 3. The Incorrigible Pachuco. Henry writes to Alice and asks to speak with her in private. When they do, he tells her he's dropping out of the case. Alice is very upset and tries to convince him to stay with the case, but he insists, "You're just using Mexicans to play politics."

Alice protests Henry's assessment of her as some kind of disingenuous white savior, and expresses her own frustrations with the case and with her role in it. "They're saying you can't be trusted because you're a Communist, because you're a Jew. Okay! If that's the way they feel about me, then to hell with them! I hate them too. I hate their language, I hate their enchiladas, and I hate their goddamned mariachi music!" she yells, and Henry begins to laugh. Seeing that she is actually genuinely invested in the case, Henry decides to go along with the appeal after all.

Alice tells Henry that if he writes an article, she will publish it, and he tells her he will think about and asks if they can send each other letters. She agrees and says her goodbyes. The boys play handball until the guard tells them that George is there to visit.

After the boys tell him that life in jail isn't so bad, George informs them that there's been a development, that he's been drafted into the army. Henry suspected that George was drafted precisely so that he would stop working on their case and gets angry. "...I'm quite flattered by your concern," says George, "But I'm hardly indispensable." He tells them that there are other lawyers who will be happy to take their case and that they will win their appeal. He says his goodbyes and leaves.

When the guard rounds up the boys, Henry lags behind and gets in a fight with the guard, insisting that they're supposed to be working in the mess hall. They fight about the boys' new assignment and Henry gets sent to solitary confinement.

Scene 5. Solitary. Henry sits in solitary, talking to the figment of Pachuco. Pachuco talks about the fact that Henry chose to be there to protect his brother and family. "Forget them all. Forget your family and the barrio beyond the wall," says Pachuco. Pachuco tells Henry "not to expect justice when it isn't there," and explains that he doesn't think they will win the appeal. Henry gets angry and tells him to "Fuck off!"

Pachuco laughs and tells him that he is only a fantasy, then conjures an image of the city. He shows Henry what is taking place outside the prison walls. Scene 6. Zoot Suit Riots. The stage transforms into the Avalon Ballroom. Two sailors dance with girls, as a Pimp, Little Blue, Zooter, Rudy, Bertha, and Lupe are all in attendance. When an argument breaks out, Rudy pulls a knife, but El Pachuco takes the knife and sends him offstage.

Press enters and says, "Serious rioting broke out here today as flying squadrons of Marines and soldiers joined the Navy in a new assault on zooter-infested districts. A fleet of twenty taxicabs carrying some two hundred servicemen pulled out of the Naval Armory in Chavez Ravine tonight and assembled a task force that invaded the eastside barrio."

We see a wave of monologues and dialogues that happen simultaneously. Pachuco tries to stand up for the zoot suiters, while the press and other white members of the cast speak out against the tastelessness of the subculture. "You are trying to outdo the white man in exaggerated white man's clothes!" the Press protests. The servicemen decide that they want to harass El Pachuco, and they follow him around the stage. The white servicemen strip El Pachuco and leave him on stage wearing only a loincloth. He turns to Henry "with mystic intensity...as an Aztec conch blows" and then exits.


The second act opens with a portrait of what life is like in the jail. In a letter to his family, Henry describes what it is like to be locked up, and expresses the fact that it is especially nice to receive mail from the outside world. A great deal of the play's thematic content is devoted to an exploration of writing in all its forms—how it feels to communicate with trusted people involved in the trial, as well as the writing that happens about the trial, the external and speculative force of the media and journalism, and its influence on public opinion. Valdez looks closely at the ways that writing can alternately be liberating and confining.

In this section, we also begin to see the complications not only from without but from within the 38th Street Gang members' camp. The boys are sometimes grateful and sometimes very miffed with the white activist Alice Bloomfield's treatment of them. Smiley insists that the fund-raising she is asking his wife to do is humiliating. Tommy, after initially thanking Alice for all her help, is offended when he interprets a compliment about his vocabulary as implying that he's not a real Chicano. Alice does her best to show that her intentions and appreciation are pure, but her whiteness and her separation from Chicano culture sometimes alienate her from the sociality of the imprisoned boys.

The boys' skepticism about Alice comes to a head when Henry tells her that he's dropping out of the case. She is heartbroken that he would deny the help the people are giving them, but he insists that the help of the white activists is condescending and more political than anything. His primary issue is with what he perceives to be her squareness and disingenuousness. However, when she breaks out of her typical rhetoric and expresses her own personal annoyance with the case, he begins to trust her more. "Now we're talking straight," he says, encouragingly, and they resolve their issues.

In addition to the problems faced by the members of the 38th Street Gang, there is a broader racial tension taking place outside in the city itself. Anti-Chicano sentiment is on the rise as members of the press and American servicemen stationed in Southern California stir up squabbles with local Chicanos. The conflict is staged rather poetically in Valdez's stage directions: a cacophony of colored lights and competing monologues from many different perspectives that highlight the various disputes.

The violence exhibited by the servicemen and the press reaches a climax that theatrically represents the racial hatred perpetrated by white Americans and the humiliation experienced by the zoot suiters. The servicemen pursue the mystical El Pachuco, who has previously seemed untouchable, and strip him of his zoot suit. The image is a striking one, in that it has rendered a seemingly omnipotent force—the center of Chicano identity and power—completely powerless. The sight of this violence sends Henry into a tailspin, and the scene ends with him collapsing to his knees at the center of the stage.