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Rhinoceros | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Act 1 of Rhinoceros what are the similarities and differences between Jean and the logician?

Jean and the logician are similar because they both have a sense of superiority and seeming infallibility. The logician believes his use of logic places him above others. As a result, he does not take part in the dispute between Jean and Berenger, but instead observes and then interjects his pearls of logical wisdom. For the logician his detachment places him above the fray. For Jean his supposedly sterling moral character and his impeccable way of dressing, he thinks, makes him superior. He can find no fault in his way of acting and becomes threatened when anyone contradicts him. However, both Jean and the logician are deluding themselves. Their supposedly impeccable ways of behaving are filled with faults. Through the use of logic, the logician ends up reaching ridiculous conclusions. Jean is willing to break off a long friendship with Berenger because of a silly argument. With each of them, their supreme confidence in their way of thinking creates massive blind spots.

In Act 1 of Rhinoceros why does Berenger say, "I sometimes wonder if I exist myself"?

For people to feel secure about their existence, they need their existence to be verified and supported by those around them. People do not live in a vacuum, but rather as members of a community. However, Berenger often feels he does not fit in with society. He is not enticed to achieve the goals—such as acquiring more money or being attractive—most people strive for. Berenger really sees no point in trying to achieve these things. As a result he appears lost and lazy. Because he does not have anyone to confirm the way he behaves, Berenger at times wonders if he even exists. Berenger says, "I feel out of place in life, among people." In contrast, Jean conforms to what a successful bourgeois should be. He dresses well, attends plays, and keeps himself fit. Because of this, he has plenty of people who affirm his way of life. He feels confident in his place in society and knows that he exists.

In Act 1 of Rhinoceros what are some examples of absurd occurrences?

A rhinoceros gallops through a small provincial town. This occurrence has no rational explanation. The animal could not have escaped from anywhere because the town does not have a zoo and circuses do not visit the area. Therefore, this occurrence is wildly absurd, but the situation is equally absurd in the way people react to it. The townsfolk respond to the rhinoceros sightings in nearly an identical manner. Many of them repeat the same banal phrases. For people to conform in such a strict manner seems absurd. Indeed, their responses at times seem to be choreographed by an unseen force. The logician's use of logic results in conclusions that contradict reality. The use of reason, therefore, does not result in attaining the truth, but rather in creating lies. Such a situation seems contradictory and thus absurd.

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Rhinoceros in what ways does Botard both change and remain the same?

Botard changes because at first he adamantly denies the existence of any rhinoceroses in town, even though Daisy and Berenger saw at least one of these animals. However, by the end of the act, Botard admits he sees a rhinoceros by the entry to the office building. Botard's attitude, though, does not change. He is a know-it-all who feels he can explain everything. At first he denies the existence of any rhinoceroses because he cannot explain them. For Botard the appearance of rhinoceroses goes beyond the realm of scientific, rational thinking. Botard states, "I like things to be precise; scientifically valid." Even when he admits the existence of rhinoceroses, Botard still clings to his know-it-all attitude with absurd results. He claims the rhinoceroses are all part of a secret plot, which he can't reveal at the moment, and exclaims, "I'll unmask the perpetrators!" Botard would prefer to concoct an outlandish explanation about the rhinoceroses rather than just admit he can't explain their existence.

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Rhinoceros how does Ionesco convey conformity through the characters' reactions to the rhinoceros sighting?

After seeing a rhinoceros at the entrance to the office building, all of the characters conform by reacting in a banal, nonchalant way, as if they are dealing with a common problem. Daisy shows sympathy for the rhinoceros, as though the animal is a stray cat. Mr. Papillon remarks that the destruction of the stairs is a good thing because they needed a new staircase. Berenger focuses on the silly argument he had with Jean about whether the rhinoceros is African or Asiatic. None of the characters have a way of reacting that seems appropriate for such an absurd and frightening occurrence. The discrepancy between the absurdity of the rhinoceros and the characters' reaction to it intensifies when they realize the rhinoceros is Mr. Boeuf. The characters still conform to commonplace responses. For example, Dudard wonders if Mr. Boeuf is insured, and Mr. Papillon asks if anything can be done legally in such a situation.

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Rhinoceros in what ways does the character of Mrs. Boeuf satirize marriage and romantic love?

Through Mrs. Boeuf, Ionesco is satirizing platitudes concerning marriage and romantic love. According to these platitudes, a husband and wife should always stick together. Their love will be stronger than any problems they face. However, when dealing with the absurdity of Mr. Boeuf turning into a rhinoceros, Mrs. Boeuf herself seems absurd when she still tries to apply these platitudes. Her husband has become a rhinoceros. Any kind of life with him will be impossible. Even so, Mrs. Boeuf still clings to these platitudes. When she realizes her husband has transformed, Mrs. Boeuf exclaims, "Oh, Boeuf, my poor Boeuf, what's happened to you." Later, she says, "I can't desert him now" and "I'm coming my darling, I'm coming!" All of these lines would fit perfectly in a trite movie about a marriage in which the husband and wife have been separated. However, they seem ridiculous and humorous in a situation where the husband has turned into a rhinoceros! Through this satire, Ionesco stresses the limitations of blindly conforming to platitudes when faced with the absurdity of life.

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Rhinoceros as the characters leave the law office via the ladder, in what ways do they cling to their identities, and for what purpose?

As the characters leave the law office via the ladder, Ionesco introduces humor by showing how most of them cling to their identities as coping mechanisms despite the absurdity and horror of their situation. The characters know that Mr. Boeuf has changed into a rhinoceros and apparently other people are changing into these beasts as well. Such a situation is horrifying. Even so, Mr. Papillon clings to the familiar by insisting on taking business papers with him as he climbs down the ladder, thereby reinforcing his identity has a hard worker. Botard gives a brief speech, confirming his identity as a know-it-all. Dudard and Berenger show extreme politeness to each other by insisting the other one go down the ladder first. By doing this they maintain their identities as polite, considerate, bourgeois workers. However, all of these actions are silly and humorous considering the strange and frightening epidemic sweeping through the town.

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Rhinoceros how does Botard's statement "I campaign against ignorance" demonstrate dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader is aware of something a character is unaware of. With Botard, the audience is aware he is denying the truth about the rhinoceroses and thereby remains ignorant, even though eyewitnesses have reported seeing the animals. However, in his conceit, Botard believes he is the enlightened one who sees the truth. So when he says, "I campaign against ignorance wherever I find it," the audience knows the reverse is true. Concerning the rhinoceroses, Botard is vehemently campaigning for ignorance. He places his way of viewing the world above reality and thereby contradicts himself.

In Rhinoceros how are the housewife and Mrs. Boeuf similar and different?

The housewife and Mrs. Boeuf are both married women involved in domestic affairs. They are also both victims of tragic incidents. The housewife's cat has been trampled by a rhinoceros, and Mrs. Boeuf's husband has changed into one. Also, people show sympathy for the housewife and Mrs. Boeuf in a superficial way. With the housewife, people are distracted from consoling her by a silly argument. With Mrs. Boeuf, Daisy stops attending to her to see the rhinoceros. However, the unnamed housewife remains apart from the rhinoceros, but Mrs. Boeuf joins her rhinoceros husband. This change reveals a progression in the plot. In Act 1 people are observing the rhinoceroses. In Act 2, Scene 1 people are being to drawn to them.

For what purpose does Ionesco choose a legal office for the setting of Act 2, Scene 1 of Rhinoceros?

In Rhinoceros Ionesco is showing the threatened and potential destruction of civilization. One of the main mechanisms upholding civilization is the legal system. By following laws people behave in a way that supports their society. However, in Act 2, Scene 1 Ionesco shows a legal office in disarray. The stairs have been destroyed by a rhinoceros, and employees are bickering with each other. Little work has been accomplished, much to the consternation of Mr. Papillon. The author, therefore, is implying the rhinoceros transformations are a bizarre happening that is destroying the very foundation of civilization, namely the law. Botard wonders, "How can [the rhinoceros] be possible in a civilized country?" The answer is that soon the country will no longer be civilized if people permit the presence of the rhinoceroses.

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