The protagonist, Berenger is messy and disorganized, a foil for his friend Jean. Despite his unkempt appearance and low self-esteem, Berenger firmly believes in humanity, morality, and individuality. He is the only character with the courage to live up to his own potential and think for himself. Many critics believe that Ionesco modeled the character on himself, for he was known to become depressed by the mundane repetitions of everyday life. Berenger is one of the more memorable characters in Ionesco's work because of his moral strength and individualistic resolve.
A friend of Berenger, Jean is tidy and well-dressed. He appears to live the "better" life as compared with Berenger. But his fate proves that he has no spine or substance. Like all of the characters in the play, we never learn how he came to be the way he is. Jean raises the question of what defines a person's character: is it the person's appearance, perceptions, or strengths? By at first appearing perfectly fine but then becoming a rhinoceros, Jean reverses expectations and engages the audience's interest in the "rhinoceros phenomenon."
Daisy is Berenger's romantic interest. She works in his office and is a young blond woman. Although good-hearted, Daisy eventually falls prey to the false logic and systematic propaganda of the rhinoceroses. Like the other characters, Daisy is more a figure in an allegory than a fully developed character. She represents the romantic desire that people feel; she is the person who makes one's heart jump, the beauty that captures one's interest and holds onto it. As Daisy turns to a rhinoceros, however, Ionesco questions the longevity of such desire.
Dudard works in the office with Berenger. Like Daisy, he appears to mean well and have a good heart, but he does not prove strong and freethinking in the end. In the final act of the play, Ionesco allows the audience to fully understand Dudard's thinking as he decides to join the animals. In Ionesco's allegory, Dudard is a weak "everyman," for he perceives the world around him but cannot fully commit to a strong individuality or purpose.
Botard works in Berenger's office. He argues with false logic by ignoring and misconstruing the evidence before him. He therefore sees the world how he wants to see it instead of how it is.
The Logician appears only in the first scene. His ludicrous reasoning immediately introduces the idea of false logic.
Appearing only in the first scene, the Waitress represents simply the easily persuaded everyman. She is easily prone to accept whatever true or false arguments surround her.
The Old Gentleman
Like many of the characters in Act One, the Old Gentleman is another common person who is kind and means well but who is easily susceptible to going along with the world around him.
Mrs. Boeuf arrives at Berenger's office because her husband, Mr. Boeuf, has turned into a rhinoceros. In her frenzy, Mrs. Boeuf suggests that people make hasty decisions in rash circumstances. As she decides to stay with her animal husband, Mrs. Boeuf illustrates her fear of being alone. She would rather be with a rhino than be alone.
Mr. Papillon is Berenger's boss. Although he is an authority figure, he cannot think for himself and quickly decides to join the rhinoceros movement.
Rhinoceros Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Rhinoceros is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The rhinoceros symbolizes humanity's inherent tendency to behave barbarically. Each rhinoceros attack represents another level of tyranny and is meant to make the reader think and question. The ultimate question we should be asking...