The play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco revolves around a man named Berenger, an apathetic drunk. It begins with Berenger in a cafe in France where he is involved in a philosophical conversation until he is passed by a rhinoceros. The group discusses the origin of the Rhino and whether it was the same one as before. When Berenger goes to work, his coworkers discuss the Rhinos but his boss skeptically believes that they are a masked illusion. Suddenly a coworker attacks the building having become a rhinoceros.
Berenger’s best friend becomes a rhinoceros and attacks Berenger who narrowly escapes. Soon the entire city transitioned and Berenger is surrounded by rhinos. He joins up with Daisy and together they resist transforming. Eventually Daisy makes the transformation into a rhinoceros. Barringer is left alone and begins to doubt his humanity. He finds himself unable to recognize his friends and photographs. He even recognizes his own image in a photo of ugly people.
The pictures are made more ugly when compared to the elegant Rhino heads. Berenger envies the Rhinos bodies, skin, and horns. At the brink of desperation, he decides to fight the rhinos and retain his humanity.
This play is interpreted and stated to be a metaphor for the resistance against conformity, specifically social and political ideologies like communism and fascism. Early in life, Eugene Ionesco he began rejecting the physical world and traditional communication. This outlook on life as well as his experiences in World War II era France permeated his work, especially rhinoceros.
This kind of play, popular in the 40s, 50s, and 60s endeavored to break down the usual rules of the theater and present ridiculous situations. In “Animalization of the human world. Eugène Ionesco, ‘Rhinoceros,’” Anna Wolska writes of Ionesco’s objection towards facism. As a genre, Ionesco examined identity through its ability to present strange scenarios or situations.
The message of rhinoceros is symbolic. Ionesco believes the play challenges human nature and it’s tendency towards conformity. The Rhino is believed to have symbolized fascism and communism. The characters and their transformations represent different kinds of people’s reactions and relationships with these ideologies. It is important to take into account though the Rhinos can stand in for any movement of mass conformity. Ionesco chose the rhinoceros because of its wild and unaware nature. Berenger is of course the apathetic detached drunk. He portrays our ability to reject and withstand the pressures of groupthink and the basic lust for power that every person inevitably encounters in their life.