Rhinoceros Summary and Analysis of Act Two, Scene Two

Immediately following the previous scene, Berenger visits Jean in his apartment. At first he cannot get inside because the door is locked and Jean is asleep. Another Jean, an old man, lives next door to Berenger's friend. There is a comical moment before Berenger goes inside the correct apartment.

In the apartment, Berenger and Jean remark that they do not recognize each other's voices. Berenger apologizes for the way he acted yesterday. At first, Jean does not remember the incident at the cafe or the scene with the rhinoceroses at all. Jean expresses how horribly he feels this morning, with a sore throat and a pain on his forehead. Berenger sees a bump above Jean's nose, but for a while, Jean himself does not see it.

Jean's odd behavior continues. He acts curtly with Berenger and declares that he does not believe in their friendship. His breathing becomes increasingly heavy; his voice, increasingly horse. Furthermore, his attitude is markedly different now. If he cared about others before, he no longer cares about humanity now ("don't talk to me about mankind!") or moral values ("Nature has its own laws. Morality's against Nature").

Berenger tells Jean what happened to Mr. Boeuf. Jean’s skin has become green, and the bump on his head has become greater. Jean asks, "what's wrong with being a rhinoceros?" Just then, Jean himself transforms into a rhinoceros.

Terrified, Berenger goes to the Old Man and his wife for help. They do not understand what he's fussing about. In just another moment, they become rhinoceroses themselves. Everywhere Berenger looks, he sees rhinoceroses. Out the window, he sees herds of them, galloping, wild. Berenger flees in horror.


Although this is a short scene, it carries much weight in the play. It begins with an unsettling event when Berenger and Jean do not recognize each other's voices. This is perhaps on the same level of difficulty as Mrs. Boeuf’s when her husband was becoming a rhinoceros.

It is also immediately odd that Jean would not remember the rhinoceros incidents. Again, the audience perceives the irony; we side with Berenger, knowing the truth over against Jean’s failing memory. It is not hard to guess, early in the scene, that Jean is becoming another rhino.

As characters transform into rhinoceroses before Berenger's very eyes, Ionesco lends specificity to his strange, abstract metaphor. Jean turns into a rhinoceros when he no longer cares about individuals or the human condition. His transformation quickens when he becomes apathetic to the idea of becoming a rhinoceros ("I'm all for change"). The neighbors similarly turn into rhinoceroses when they chastise Jean's alarm ("what a way to behave!"). Those who have lost the thread of care for humanity, those who despair, are the ones who turn into unthinking, unkind animals. As more and more people become rhinos, it is harder to see why one should retain one’s own sense of reason and individuality, weak as it may have been to begin with. As the scene suggests, this transformation can happen easily and in mere moments. The effect for a person like Berenger is terrifying and isolating.

Berenger's role in the allegory becomes clearer. He is the main character. But is he an Everyman like the others, just slower to become a rhino? Will he be the last man? The audience hopes that he will represent the enduring rationality of humanity, the final resistance against conformity and the animalistic side of human nature.

The foil relationship that Ionesco established in Act One becomes interesting here. At first, Jean was the character who seemed more capable and organized, and Berenger seemed less able to fulfill a normal role in society. We probably respected Jean more as a functioning member of the human herd. But it is now Berenger to whom the audience relates. His uniqueness might save him; Jean’s normalness dooms him. Like many Absurdist playwrights, Ionesco made a point of reversing expectations. The appearance of being disheveled hides the reality of Berenger’s individuality. Thus, the playwright implicitly asks whom we can really trust to act rationally instead of following the herd.

Ionesco also continues to employ humor to maintain a certain level of thrill and enjoyment. The issue of mistaken identity at the beginning is funny in addition to its suggestion that people are more interchangeable than they might want to believe. Contemporary reviews and later critics alike remark on the incredible dramatic tension and immense theatrical potential this scene allows as a human becomes a rhinoceros in front of an audience's eyes. Such theatrics and humor fit together, for the changes and absurdities in the play reflect Ionesco’s presentation of the fickleness and absurdities of the human experience.