GradeSaver (TM) ClassicNotes Rhinoceros: Study Guide
Home : Rhinoceros : Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Act Two, Scene One

Rhinoceros Summary and Analysis

by Eugene Ionesco

Act Two, Scene One

Act Two opens on an office with several new characters: Botard, Dudard, and Mr. Papillon. Daisy is also on stage. The office discusses the rhinoceros episode, which has been reported in the newspaper. Botard cannot believe that it truly happened and declares that he does not believe in newspapers. Daisy insists that the incident really happened, but before she can convince Botard, he changes the issue. What color was the cat? Although Papillon attempts to prove that this has nothing to do with the incident, Botard insists that it does. The characters thus carry on a ludicrous conversation regarding race, cats, and rhinoceroses.

Berenger enters, and the others in the office ask him about the rhinoceros incident. He backs up Daisy's story. But Botard continues to debate the story, claiming that Berenger is too drunk to trust, that he does not really know what a rhinoceros looks like, and that he is unreliable in his recollections. He calls the Rhinoceros story "a hoax" meant to serve as propaganda.

Mr. Papillion, the boss, wonders where Mr. Boeuf is, for he is not at his desk. Just then, Mrs. Boeuf arrives out of breath. She says her husband has the flu. But then she admits that she was chased from her house by a rhinoceros. Not only that, the beast actually is downstairs wanting to be let in.

When they see the animal, Botard finally must admit the reality before him. Upon seeing the rhinoceros, Botard now determines that there is an "infamous plot" afoot. Berenger returns to his previous concerns about how many horns the animal has and what species it might be. Mr. Papillon declares that the rhinoceros is "the management's fault."

Suddenly, Mrs. Boeuf cries out because she realizes that the rhinoceros is in fact her husband. At this, Mr. Papillon simply states that Mr. Boeuf is fired. Daisy wonders how to collect insurance in such a case, and Botard decides to complain to his union. No one fully accepts the absurd reality that a man has turned into a rhinoceros.

Daisy calls the firemen. The hysterical Mrs. Boeuf leaps out the window, lands on her husband's back, and rides away. Daisy reports that she cannot get through to the firemen because apparently there are rhinoceros incidents all over town. Botard now declares that he never thought the rhinoceros stories were false. He also claims to understand this entire rhinoceros fiasco, but he will not explain it to anyone.

The firemen arrive and usher everyone out the window to safety. Mr. Papillon decrees that all workers must be back in the office by the afternoon. Berenger decides to find Jean and make peace with him. The scene closes as he and Dudard file out the window together, for each one is too polite to go out first.

Analysis

Once again, the act opens with a group of regular people in a regular setting, an office. Like the group in the town square, this group of people is going about the everyday business of normal life. There are a boss, a blond receptionist, disgruntled employees, and ambitious employees. The discussion refers to the strangest thing in the day’s newspaper, which today is especially strange. It is so out of the ordinary that it can hardly be believed, for most people expect most of their days to be unremarkable.

When Botard changes the conversation about the rhinoceros to focus on irrelevant issues of race—least relevantly of all, the color of the cat—we remember the vapid nature of so much casual conversation and experience the tiresome illogic of someone who talks without true understanding. We were there in the first act, and so was Daisy, so we have some fairly direct experience of what the newspaper is relating, but Botard wants to have his own say. We also remember the Logician and the theme of false reasoning. Botard cannot be dissuaded from following his own false logic. He claims to be some kind of critical thinker who does not even believe in newspapers, trusting his own powers of reasoning best and claiming to have a "methodical mind." The irony here is that we know how far wrong he is and how far from rational the man really is. The contrast has been made so obvious that Botard has become an allegorical figure of absurdity. Although he and Ionesco might agree that humans must truly think for themselves, the prospects for doing so are not good if most of us are like Botard most of the time.

Botard further illustrates the way in which people often stick to an opinion despite all proof to the contrary. Despite testimony from Daisy, Berenger, and the newspaper, he simply will not believe that a rhinoceros could tear through the village. That is all he is being asked to believe, at first—he is not even being asked to believe that people are becoming rhinos. In Ionesco's great metaphor for the events leading up to the Holocaust, Botard represents the German people who simply could not believe that the Nazis would design concentration camps to kill the country's Jewish population.

When the people in the office examine the rhinoceros, realizing that the animal is in fact Mr. Boeuf, their reactions reveal some of Ionesco's observations of humans in this psychological allegory. Botard and Mr. Papillon blame other people. Berenger occupies himself with unimportant concerns about its species. Daisy wonders how to collect insurance in such a situation. But none of them clearly perceives the fundamental absurdity—and the real danger—of living in a place where people can become rhinoceroses.

Still, the mood in this scene is different than the earlier one; it is more unsettled. Before, the rhinos came and went. Now, the town is in a truly bizarre state where humans can become rhinoceroses. After the Boeufs ride away, the immediate danger is gone, however, and while the strangeness has only just begun to deepen, the shift in tone is notable. Just as in a fairy tale or a myth, a person can transform into an animal. Such an undeniable departure from real life is a central element of Absurdist Theater. As usual, the absurdity is not so disturbing to those within the play as it is to those of us observing it.

Coupled with this strangeness comes one of Ionesco's most effective literary devices, humor. That humans are becoming rhinoceroses, from the safety of the audience, can be hilarious. Mrs. Boeuf appears rightfully alarmed and histrionic at the same time. And at the end of the act, Berenger and Dudard exit the window together because both of them are too polite to leave first. Such uses of humor help us remember that what is strange is not just the basic plot but also the drama of human life as people try to make sense of a strange world by means of strange actions. The humor is often dark, but it keeps the audience laughing and engaged.

Ionesco ends the scene by foreshadowing the next level of disruption. Like the ordinary town square before, the ordinary office is utterly disrupted and fundamentally disturbed. Without any perceivable reason for the transformation of Mr. Boeuf into a rhinoceros, and with almost equally bizarre reactions on the part of the office workers, the playwright prepares us for experiencing the townspeople’s reaction to the wave of rhinoceros incidents around town. If Mrs. Boeuf chooses to follow her husband, who is already a rhinoceros, we see that there is some draw toward being a rhino over being a human.

Rhinoceros Essays and Related Content