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Rhinoceros | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros why might Ionesco have two characters with the name of Jean?

Ionesco has two people with the name of Jean to emphasize conformity, especially the theme of trends. Jean is a very popular name in France. Because of this, people have created a trend of naming their sons Jean. People want to conform to what others think is an attractive name. However, because of this, confusion can arise as the author shows in Act 2, Scene 2. Berenger calls Jean's name and an older man, also named Jean, answers. By having two characters named Jean, Ionesco is emphasizing their connection. Berenger's friend Jean goes through an absurd transformation as he changes into a rhinoceros. His belligerence and sense of infallibility contribute to this change. Having another character named Jean implies that he, too, could be going through a similar change. Indeed, this idea proves to be true. At the end of the act, Berenger realizes that the other Jean has also become a rhinoceros. In a way the two characters are interchangeable. The younger Jean's sense of infallibility must also apply to the older Jean.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros why does Jean feel sick during the early stages of his transformation?

Ionesco has Jean feel sick in a figurative sense because the author views people changing into rhinoceroses as a metaphoric disease or an epidemic. For Ionesco a person becomes a rhinoceros through his or her belligerent, narrow-minded view and sense of infallibility. Such a mindset is not good for human beings because it disconnects them from other humans and ends in destructive behavior. The author shows this through the symbol of broken objects. As the rhinoceroses multiply, they break more and more objects, eventually destroying civilization. Jean only feels sick during the early stages of his transformation because later he begins to deny being ill. For example, he sees his swollen veins as a sign of virility. Jean, therefore, starts to accept his illness as a superior way of being.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros how does Jean's transformation into a rhinoceros reflect weakness rather than strength?

The more Jean insists on his own rightness while actually only succumbing to what everyone else is doing, the more he turns into a rhinoceros. Early in this process Jean says his nervous system is "in perfect order." At this point he has a somewhat hoarse voice and general sense of not feeling well. Jean claims he always thinks straight, but Berenger notices a bump on his friend's forehead. Soon Jean insists he doesn't need a doctor, believing nothing is wrong with him. As he says this, his skin turns greener and hardens. Before long, Jean says he'll run down anyone who gets in his way and begins pacing like a wild animal. Jean arrogantly claims that moral standards should be replaced by the law of the jungle. After this, his bump grows into the size of a rhinoceros horn, and he begins to trash the bathroom. As he does this, Jean exclaims, "I'll trample you, I'll trample you down!" He has not been strong at all in resisting the change; only Berenger seems strong enough to see what is happening and refuse to join in.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros how does Jean scapegoat Berenger, and for what reason?

Jean scapegoats Berenger in many ways. For example, Jean claims that Berenger's voice, not his own, is changing. When Berenger tells Jean he is breathing hard, Jean says Berenger's breathing is too feeble. Later, Berenger notices Jean's skin is turning greener. But Jean accuses Berenger of having color mania. Also, Jean implies that Berenger is being obstinate, but Jean is the person showing stubbornness. Then Jean accuses Berenger of being a victim of prejudice, when Jean himself exhibits extreme prejudice. Jean scapegoats Berenger because Jean cannot accept his weakness in the face of becoming a rhinoceros. As a result, he has to project his faults onto someone else, in this case Berenger.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros why does Jean tell Berenger, "There's no such thing as friendship"?

Jean claims, "There's no such thing as friendship" because his belligerent, superior attitude destroys friendship instead of building it up. For true friendship to develop, two people must be willing to be honest with each other, which includes admitting their weaknesses and mistakes. By doing this the friends see each other as equals. However, if a person like Jean has a superior attitude, then he places himself above other people. Such a person cannot form a solid bond of friendship. Jean is mainly concerned with proving that he is right and Berenger is wrong. A relationship like this is adversarial, not friendly. Trapped in his own righteousness, Jean disregards any notion of friendship. For him friendship may seem like weakness.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros how does Jean try to rationalize his change into a rhinoceros?

Jean rationalizes turning into a rhinoceros by trying to convince himself that being a rhinoceros is better than being human. For instance, he views his swollen veins as a sign of virility. He sees his heavy breathing as being stronger than human breathing. Jean convinces himself his tough skin is better because it is weatherproof, and he begins to view the way of life of rhinoceroses as being superior to the human way of life. He sees rhinoceroses destroying civilization as a good thing when he says, "When we've demolished all that [civilization], we'll be better off!" Jean uses rationalization to convince himself that being a brutal, destructive beast is a good thing.

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Rhinoceros why does Berenger wonder whether Jean can see and hear him?

Berenger wonders whether Jean can see and hear him to emphasize the lack of communication that occurs when a person adopts a stubborn, superior, narrow-minded view. Throughout this scene, the author has Jean continually misinterpret what Berenger is saying. For example, Jean interprets Berenger's attempts to help as being accusatory and threatening. Consumed by his own righteous worldview, Jean cannot tolerate anyone who might contradict it. For such a person true communication is impossible. It's as if the person has become another animal incapable of communicating like a human being. To stress this Ionesco has Jean turn into a rhinoceros. Other characters who have a similar attitude of infallibility also have difficulty communicating. The logician can only communicate using his ridiculous, logical games, while Daisy and Dudard have difficulty communicating with Botard.

In Act 3 of Rhinoceros why are Berenger's apartment and Jean's apartment similar?

Berenger's and Jean's apartments are similar to convey society's conformity as well as the interchangeability of people. For the author people live in a society that constantly promotes this conformity, and the apartments are a representation of this conformity. They seem like cookie-cutter replicas of each other. Only a few details mark a difference between the two spaces. The narrator states, "Only certain details, one or two extra pieces of furniture, reveal that it is a different room." Also, the similarity of these rooms is an appropriate setting for the action taking place. This action emphasizes people conforming by changing into rhinoceroses, which all look similar except for their horns. So the nearly identical rooms underscores many people changing into a homogeneous mass.

In Act 3 of Rhinoceros how does Berenger's paranoia benefit him?

Berenger's fear helps him resist changing into a rhinoceros. Berenger expresses a fear of becoming a rhinoceros, and admits to Dudard, "I'm frightened of becoming someone else." Berenger constantly checks that he isn't growing a horn and that his voice isn't changing. The thought of such a transformation horrifies him. Because of this horror, Berenger does not become a rhinoceros. He says, "If one ... really doesn't want to catch this thing ... then you don't catch it." Berenger has this aversion to being a rhinoceros because he does not want to give up the qualities of being human with all its strengths and weaknesses. Also, the qualities of a rhinoceros—such as belligerence and brutality—terrify him.

In Act 3 of Rhinoceros why does Berenger think that Jean would be the last person to change into a rhinoceros?

Jean has high moral standards, which involve improving himself through cultural activities like going to plays and museums. These refined activities seem to contradict the brutal qualities of a rhinoceros. Also, Jean seems very sure about his high-minded views and enthusiastically defends them. Berenger probably feels that a person with this confidence and willpower would resist changing into a beast. Because of Jean's confidence, Berenger says, "I felt more sure of him than of myself!" However, what Berenger doesn't realize is that Jean's lofty views disguise a person who is stubborn, narrow-minded, and has a sense of superiority and lack of humanity. All of these qualities lead to Jean's transformation.

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