Rhinoceros Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In Berenger's final monologue, he momentarily seems to find value in the rhinoceros cause. "Their song is charming," he says. "They're the good looking ones." Are we to believe his attempts to become a rhinoceros? How does this moment add meaning to his final declaration that he will not capitulate?

    Answer: These moments show that turning into a rhinoceros is not simply a conscious choice; the more rational a person is, the more his nature is human and the harder it will be to become a rhino. Berenger cannot change his personality even if he wanted to. He is what he is, and he realizes that he should be proud of it.

  2. 2

    As rhinoceroses first appear in the play, characters obsess over the number of horns the animals have. Why might the playwright have included this dialogue?

    Answer: Ionesco's characters dwell on unimportant details to show how distracted and confused the human mind can become. People easily begin to lose track of why such discussions begin and what relevance things really have. Perhaps most people most of the time act this way.

  3. 3

    What is the effect of such stylized dialogue as the repeated line, "Oh, a rhinoceros"?

    Answer: This stylized dialogue is a characteristic of absurdist theater and serves to abstract the specifics of real life. By making life on stage distinct, Ionesco creates more space between the audience and characters and points to a more general message. It becomes easier to abstract from the characters in order to see ourselves. Also, repetition of such lines emphasizes the inability of many people to think for themselves.

  4. 4

    Why does Berenger remain human while all others become animals? Why do some characters remain humans longer than others?

    Answer: Berenger remains human because he continues to believe in individuality; he is dedicated to some measure of morality and rationality. Some characters remain human longer than others because, presumably, they are able to keep up their individuality and rationality a bit longer than others.

  5. 5

    How does false reasoning add to the central metaphor of the play?

    Answer: Every character in the play except Berenger adheres to false reasoning, and every character except Berenger comes to believe it. The Logician is a particularly astute example because he is looked to as a master of logic but in fact uses illogical arguments. Ionesco uses this theme to suggest how vulnerable human beings are to false logic and point out how dangerous the consequences can be. Weak logic is a diminishment of humanity that makes it easy to become a rhinoceros.

  6. 6

    Since the play first opened, many productions have suggested rhinoceroses in different ways, such as puppets or shadows. If you were to stage the play, what considerations would be invovled in portraying the animals?

    Answer: One might imagine shadows on the wall, scrim screens, elaborate set pieces, video installations, or even people dressed as rhinoceroses. The level of audience attention to the rhinos, the amount of comedy involved, and the believability of the rhino phenomenon are important considerations.

  7. 7

    Mrs. Boeuf appears briefly but dramatically. What does her frenzied state reveal? Why does she decide to become a rhinoceros?

    Answer: Her frenzied state of mind reveals that humans can make rash decisions guided by extreme emotions. She becomes a rhinoceros because she cannot imagine a world in which she lives without her husband. She cannot be alone, and she would rather become an animal than remain independent.

  8. 8

    The opening scene includes characters, such as the Waitress, who never appear again. What is their purpose?

    Answer: These characters represent all the people one interacts with and never sees again. They are Everyman types, stock characters, ordinary people in whom we never see much depth of character. These are the people, it seems, who are most easily turned by rabble-rousers and politicians.

  9. 9

    Why is it important that Berenger and Jean are foils?

    Answer: In a general way, this is a theme of appearance versus reality, used for theatrical effect: Jean appears to have his act together, but he gives up his individuality. Berenger is just the opposite, refusing to capitulate. The reversal is not uncommon in drama. In particular, the reversal shows us that if we are the kind of people who just like fitting in, we are at risk of accepting the false logic of the crowd and making huge mistakes, while those of us who seem unkempt might hold a more noble individualism.

  10. 10

    Taking for granted that the play is an allegory of the rise of Nazism among the German people, why did Ionesco choose rhinoceroses to represent the Nazi party?

    Answer: Rhinoceroses are loud, scary, ugly, and dangerous. They are strong, wild, uncontrollable, and usually vicious towards humans. They do not appear smart, and they are figured here as herd animals. The rhinos also seem to contribute to the humor of the play. As for the plot, Ionesco needed to choose an animal that would be absurd to find rampaging through a town.