Rhinoceros | Study Guide

Eugène Ionesco

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Rhinoceros | Act 3 | Summary

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Summary

Act 3 takes place in Berenger's apartment. Wearing a bandage on his head, Berenger seems paranoid about turning into a rhinoceros. Dudard enters, expresses concern about Berenger's anxious state, and tells him not to worry about the rhinoceroses. Dudard admits he can't explain why people are changing into rhinoceroses but is calmly trying to observe the facts. When Berenger hears rhinoceroses galloping in the street below, he gets flustered again. He tries to reassure himself that a person will not turn into a rhinoceros if he or she doesn't want to. According to Dudard, the rhinoceroses really aren't bad. However, for Berenger, just the sight of the animals gives him a bad feeling.

Berenger claims the transformations are evil and, because of this, people should take action against them. Dudard asserts that the changes have nothing to do with evil but rather with personal preferences. He then mentions that the office hasn't resumed work because Mr. Papillon has changed into a rhinoceros. This news shocks Berenger. Dudard says Botard was outraged by Mr. Papillon's transformation. Dudard prefers a more detached approach, which uses logic to understand the phenomenon. Berenger states that a person turning into a rhinoceros is abnormal, but Dudard is not sure about this. Berenger says people should not rely on theory with these transformations but rather on intuition. For Berenger his intuition tells him that people changing into rhinoceroses is horrible. He yells, "You devils!" at rhinoceroses passing below on the street. He then notices one of the rhinoceroses is wearing the logician's hat and realizes this animal is the logician. Berenger wonders whom a person can turn to for help.

Daisy enters. Berenger is pleased to see her and informs her that the logician has changed into a rhinoceros. Daisy already knew this and seems more concerned about Berenger's health. She says Botard has also turned into a rhinoceros. Shocked, Berenger can't believe this news, but Daisy calmly says she saw him transform. Berenger tries to comprehend Botard's change, as Dudard discreetly flirts with Daisy. Dudard claims mildly that Botard changed because his so-called community spirit triumphed over anarchy. Berenger counters that the rhinoceroses are anarchic because they are in the minority. Daisy says they're becoming a much bigger minority and names several people she knows who have changed into rhinoceroses.

Daisy has brought food and suggests eating lunch. She had trouble finding food because the rhinoceroses have plundered many shops. Berenger suggests the rhinoceroses should be corralled, but Daisy says doing this would be difficult because everyone has at least one friend or relation who has transformed. Besides, people are getting used to the rhinoceroses. Berenger realizes the rhinoceroses have destroyed the fire station and sees more rhinoceroses coming out of houses. Dudard feels his duty is to stick by his friends and employers, who have all changed into rhinoceroses. He runs out of the apartment as Berenger shouts at him to come back.

Berenger looks out the window and can only see rhinoceroses "as far as the eye can see." The sound of the rhinoceroses becomes almost musical. Stylized heads of rhinoceroses appear on the wall, and these heads seem to become beautiful. Berenger declares his love for Daisy and says they do not need to fear anything if they are together. Daisy agrees that nothing can hurt them but says Berenger should calm himself. Berenger feels guilt about not being nicer to Jean. Daisy tells Berenger not to reproach himself because guilt could spoil their happiness.

The phone rings, and Berenger answers it. The sound of trumpeting rhinoceroses are heard over the receiver. To get news Berenger turns on the radio, but again only the sound of trumpeting is heard. Daisy and Berenger realize they are the only humans left. The noise of the rhinoceroses comes from everywhere, causing the house to shake. Even so, the noise has a rhythmic, musical quality. Berenger says they could have children and regenerate the human race, but Daisy replies that doing this would be too difficult. According to Daisy, she and Berenger might be the abnormal ones who need saving, not the rhinoceroses. When Berenger declares his love for her, Daisy says she feels ashamed of love because it is a type of weakness. Daisy imagines the rhinoceroses playing and dancing and calls them gods. Berenger rebukes Daisy for saying this. When Berenger inspects himself in the mirror, Daisy slowly leaves the apartment. Realizing Daisy has left, Berenger yells for her to return.

Berenger blames himself for Daisy leaving. He considers trying to convince the rhinoceroses to change back and wonders if the changes are reversible. But to convince them, he would have to learn their language, and they would have to learn his. Berenger questions the language he is speaking. He feels ugly compared to the rhinoceroses and wishes he has their features. The noises of the rhinoceroses begin to sound charming to him, and he tries to imitate them but can't. Berenger now feels he's the monster. Suddenly, he declares that he doesn't care if he's the monster. He shouts that he'll fight all of them. He's the last man left and intends to stay this way.

Analysis

Causes of Conformity

In Act 3 the theme of conformity to trends takes center stage. For Ionesco conformity has two main causes: people failing to hold strong to their own beliefs, including paying attention to the emotional aspect of beliefs, and the popularity of trends, which involves the use of social pressure to conform. For Dudard the calm, scientific use of logic and reason is by far the best way to deal with life. He prides himself on being objective, fair, and seeing all sides of an issue. Dudard states, "One has to keep an open mind ... everything is logical. To understand is to justify." In this way Dudard is similar to the logician. His calm use of reason entraps him. At first he shows no desire to become a rhinoceros, but his objectivity and desire to understand the opposing point of view seduces him into joining the pack. Before he leaves to join the rhinoceroses, Dudard says, "But if you're going to criticize [the rhinoceroses], it's better to do so from the inside." So he uses the idea of scientific inquiry to justify becoming a rhinoceros.

For the author, failing to attend to emotions is very dangerous. In Act 1, when the housewife expressed her fear of seeing a rhinoceros, the logician replied, "Fear is an irrational thing. It must yield to reason." Later, when the housewife was grieving for her dead cat, the logician told her, "What do you expect, Madame? All cats are mortal! One must accept that." In both cases the housewife's emotions are perfectly natural, but for the logician, feeling one's emotions is an inferior thing, which should give way only to reason. In Act 3 Dudard tries to distance Berenger from his fear of the rhinoceroses. He tells Berenger, "You must learn to be more detached." Later, Dudard says, "I'm simply trying to look the facts unemotionally in the face." By doing this, though, a person can lose touch with his or her emotions. Such distancing from feelings has severe repercussions as more and more people change into rhinoceroses. Berenger remains terrified about transforming into a rhinoceros, which helps him resist such a change. However, other characters seem to rationalize the change, thereby making them more susceptible to it. By showing this misuse of reason, Ionesco is making a connection to the rise of fascism. The brutality of fascism horrified most people, but many blocked out or distanced themselves from this horror through over rationalization.

For Ionesco using reason to explain an absurd event is inadequate. An absurd occurrence, like people turning into rhinoceroses or adopting fascism, is irrational and therefore cannot be explained using reason. In addition, Ionesco sees the banal use of language as instrumental in people conforming to absurd and destructive behavior. For example, when Berenger and Daisy express their love for each other, they do so by using a series of platitudes and banalities, such as "I'm not afraid of anything as long as we're together." They are repeating what countless romantic couples have said throughout history, which allows the pressures of conforming to the rhinoceroses to break their relationship apart. In such absurd circumstances, their relationship would require a fresh use of language that conveys the truth of their specific situation.

The second major cause for conformity is the power of trends. Many of the people who first turned into rhinoceroses were probably in themselves potentially belligerent by nature and convinced of their own infallibility. However, as more and more people became rhinoceroses, the remaining people felt more social pressure to become rhinoceroses. It's what everyone else is doing, so it must be right. Dudard shows this before he leaves Berenger's apartment when he says, "It's my duty to stick by them [the rhinoceroses]; I have to do my duty." Botard also felt this pressure. His last words were, "We must move with the times!" Even Daisy succumbs to the pressure of the pack when she says, "Perhaps it's we who need saving. Perhaps we're the abnormal ones." In addition, as more people transform into rhinoceroses, being a rhinoceros becomes more attractive. The rhinoceros turns into the standard on how an individual should look and behave. Ionesco indicates this when he describes the rhinoceroses' heads on the wall becoming more beautiful and their noises becoming more musical. Near the end of the play, Daisy becomes intoxicated by the desire to be like the rhinoceroses when she says, "They're beautiful."

Mob Mentality

In Act 3 Ionesco continues to develop the symbol of the rhinoceroses by having them represent the mob mentality. As more and more people become rhinoceroses, they become a destructive mob. The author uses the symbol of broken objects—such as the looted stores and the demolished fire station—to represent this destruction. Ionesco was fully aware of the destructive force of fascist mobs. For example, in Germany in November 1938, Nazi mobs attacked Jewish people and their property, which involved looting stores and destroying synagogues. This incident came to be called Kristallnacht, which means "night of broken glass." It was only the beginning of long years ahead of mass destruction and mob rule characteristic of fascism. Like the rhinoceroses destroying the fire station and looting shops, the Nazi mob destroyed anything that got in its way.

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