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Rhinoceros | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In Act 3 of Rhinoceros why do Berenger and Daisy argue?

Ionesco has Berenger and Daisy argue to motivate the breakup of their relationship. The argument emphasizes the power of persuasion of a mass movement, in this case people turning into "rhinoceroses." Through much of Act 3, Daisy and Berenger declare their undying love for each other. Despite this, Daisy feels drawn to conform by becoming a beast. Daisy says, "After all, perhaps it's we who need saving. Perhaps we're the abnormal ones." Berenger, however, firmly defends remaining human which leads to a quarrel with Daisy. Ionesco shows arguments throughout the play. Berenger argues with Jean. Botard argues with coworkers. Dudard argues with Berenger. These quarrels seem to be instrumental in people becoming rhinoceroses. While discussion, even arguing, are important signs of a civilization, allowing for the interchange of ideas and displays of caring, these people seem more concerned about proving their positions right than in caring for each other. When Daisy and Berenger begin to lose focus on each other, they quarrel. Daisy eventually joins the rhinoceroses, and Berenger is tempted to do so.

During the final speech in Act 3 of Rhinoceros, what emotions does Berenger convey, and which emotion helps him resist becoming a rhinoceros?

Berenger shows anguish when he realizes Daisy has left without even saying goodbye. He feels guilty about her leaving, thinking that somehow he should have taken better care of her. Then he shows confusion when he considers learning the language of the rhinoceroses. Berenger even wonders what language he is speaking himself. After this, Berenger experiences doubt about remaining human, thinking perhaps he should become a beast. He hates the way he looks and wants to look and sound like a rhinoceros. However, he turns this self-hatred outward into an angry defiance about remaining human and resisting the rhinoceroses. Anger, therefore, is the emotion Berenger uses to resist transforming. However, it could be argued that other emotions—doubt and confusion—might also contribute to his resistance. Throughout the play, Berenger shows himself to be an unsure person who questions and doubts himself. In contrast, many other characters such as Jean, Botard, the logician, and Dudard, are extremely sure of themselves. Indeed, this sense contributes to their transformations into rhinoceroses. So in a way, Berenger's willingness at the end of the play to feel a confusing array of emotion helps him resist.

In Rhinoceros how does Berenger's lack of willpower help him resist becoming a rhinoceros?

Because of his lack of willpower, Berenger drinks too much, doesn't dress well, and leads an aimless life. However, Berenger realizes these weaknesses about himself and feels some remorse about them. In Act 1 Berenger resolves to correct his imperfections, stating, "Instead of drinking, I'll develop my mind." But like everything else in his life, Berenger fails to carry through on his resolutions. In a way, though, Berenger's lack of willpower forces him to accept his weaknesses. He knows he's fallible and has no pretenses of being perfect. As a result, Berenger lacks the traits that often turn people into rhinoceroses, specifically a pompous, belligerent attitude about their righteousness. Berenger's lack of willpower, therefore, turns into a strength, a determination to remain human with all his flaws.

In Rhinoceros how does Ionesco convey the collapse of language?

Ionesco starts out by showing how most people use language to say banal phrases. Instead of taking time to react to a situation like an individual, they conform to a way of responding that is accepted by society. Lacking any strength, language starts to collapse when people change into rhinoceroses. Jean clearly shows this in Act 2, Scene 2. As he transforms, he says a series of platitudes, such as "I'm master of my own thoughts," "I've got one aim in life," and "I'm not a victim of prejudice like you." While expressing these thoughts, Jean's voice gets hoarser until Berenger can hardly understand him. Eventually, Jean's talking turns into the harsh grunts of a rhinoceros. In Act 3 the conversation between Berenger, Dudard, and Daisy is drowned out by the noise of rhinoceroses and buildings collapsing. These rhinoceros sounds begin to replace human language. Daisy feels the desire to learn to speak like a rhinoceros when she says, "But we must try to understand the way their minds work, and learn their language." Horrified by this, Berenger claims the rhinoceroses don't have a language. Even so, Daisy comes to view their sounds as beautiful and joins these beasts. Left alone, Berenger becomes confused about his French language and wonders what language really is. At this point language's meaning has collapsed, but Berenger clings to remaining human and using the French language.

In Act 1 of Rhinoceros how does Ionesco use foreshadowing and situational irony during Jean's argument with Berenger after the first rhinoceros sighting?

Ionesco uses situational irony when Jean is upset about the rhinoceros sighting, and when Berenger takes it in a casual way. Later, in Act 2, Scene 2 Jean accepts becoming a rhinoceros, while Berenger expresses horror about his friend's transformation. Later, Berenger continues to be terrified by people's changing over. These contrasts are examples of reversed situational irony because characters have the opposite reactions than what is expected. Because of Jean's concern about the rhinoceroses in Act 1, the reader would not expect him to become one in Act 2, Scene 2. Also, because of Berenger's nonchalance about the animals in Act 1, the reader would not expect him to resist becoming a rhinoceros. Also, during the argument after the first rhinoceros sighting, Berenger accuses Jean of being obstinate. Although Jean denies this, Berenger's statement foreshadows how Jean's stubbornness leads to him becoming a beast.

In Rhinoceros how is the character of Daisy similar to, and different from, the character of Berenger?

Daisy and Berenger are similar because they both are concerned with interpersonal relationships more than with being right or dogmatic. In Act 1 Daisy and the waitress show the most concern for the grieving housewife, and Berenger expresses remorse about quarreling with Jean. In Act 2, Scene 1 both Daisy and Berenger show the most concern for Mrs. Boeuf. Also, Daisy arranges a way for her coworkers to safely leave the office. In Act 3 Berenger and Daisy have formed a romantic relationship and show friendship to Dudard when they ask him to stay for lunch. Daisy is different from Berenger because she relies more on romance to block out the problems of the world, specifically people changing into rhinoceroses. Berenger tries to do this but is not as successful. Also, Daisy shows no guilt. At one point in Act 3, Daisy says, "Perhaps it's all are own fault." However, she fails to carry through on taking any responsibility for the transformations. Instead, she decides to let things run their course. In contrast, Berenger feels self-doubt and guilt throughout the play. Daisy is much better adjusted to her role in society than Berenger. She is a respected secretary and a single woman who is much sought after by men, specifically Dudard and Berenger. On the other hand, Berenger is a social misfit who never fits in.

In Rhinoceros what are three ways Ionesco conveys the theme of absurdity in Acts 2 and 3?

Ionesco conveys the theme of absurdity in the following ways: The rhinoceros transformations are absurd. In reality people do not physically change into rhinoceroses. Having them do so conveys a strong element of noticeable absurdity throughout the play. Characters try to incorporate the phenomenon of the transformations into everyday life. As a result, Ionesco has characters respond to the rhinoceroses with an air of indifference. In Act 2, Scene 2 when Dudard realizes Mr. Boeuf has turned into a rhinoceros, he asks, "Is he insured?" Later, in Act 3, when talking about herds of rhinoceroses, Daisy says, "They [people] just stand aside, and then carry on as if nothing had happened." Such common responses to the absurd transformations are in themselves absurd. Finally, characters trying to defend their correctness takes on another level of absurdity. In an effort to defend his know-it-all identity, Botard comes up with an explanation about the rhinoceroses being part of a sinister plot by the establishment.

In Rhinoceros how does Ionesco use the symbol of the rhinoceroses in Act 1 versus Act 3?

In both Act 1 and Act 3, Ionesco uses the symbol of the rhinoceroses to represent absurdity in the world. In Act 1 seeing a rhinoceros galloping through town is absurd. In Act 3 having a rhinoceros epidemic is also absurd. In both acts the author shows the rhinoceroses as a brute and destructive force. However, this aspect of the rhinoceros symbol is more fully developed in Act 3, which depicts them destroying civilization. However, in Act 1 the author relates the rhinoceroses to people's stubbornness and tendency to argue to defend their positions. Ionesco has Jean and Berenger argue about whether the rhinoceroses were African or Asiatic. In Act 3 the author shifts the focus to the rhinoceroses representing the mob mentality and how the mob can persuade people to join them.

How is Rhinoceros similar to, and different from, The Stranger by Albert Camus?

Both Rhinoceros and The Stranger deal with the theme of absurdity. In The Stranger Meursault reacts to his mother's death in an absurd way. He seems more concerned with how the physical world is affecting him than with the loss of his mother. Meursault's murder of the Arab is equally absurd. According to Meursault, he did not intend to shoot the Arab. Instead, his body's reaction to the sun's oppressive heat made him shoot the man. In addition, the legal institution's attempt to force a traditional explanation on Meursault's shooting of the Arab is absurd. In Rhinoceros people turning into rhinoceroses is absurd as are people's commonplace responses and conformity to these transformations. Both Rhinoceros and The Stranger deal with conformity. In the former, people conform in the way they speak and by joining the rhinoceroses. In the latter, the establishment tries to make Meursault conform to its traditional view of the world.

In what ways is Rhinoceros relevant despite the fact that the fascist regimes it criticized are no longer in existence?

Rhinoceros deals with the rise and spread of fascism. In today's world, unlike in Ionesco's time, governments that are officially known as fascist do not exist. However, governments resembling fascist regimes rule many nations. Most of these governments claim to be democracies. However, this label is only a façade to cover up a government ruled by an authoritarian leader using fascist methods. These methods include the use of force to show strength, extreme nationalism, control of the media, and the oppression of any opposition. In addition, fascist groups and movements with fascist leanings can have representatives in the government of democratic countries. For these reasons the play remains relevant.

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