Rhinoceros | Study Guide

Eugène Ionesco

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Course Hero. "Rhinoceros Study Guide." March 7, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Rhinoceros/.


Course Hero, "Rhinoceros Study Guide," March 7, 2017, accessed November 15, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Rhinoceros/.

Rhinoceros | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


At a café in a French town, Rhinoceros begins as Jean, a seemingly average man, meets his friend Berenger. Jean is well dressed, highly disciplined, and prides himself on his high morals and education. In contrast, Berenger is poorly dressed, has a drinking problem, and finds life worthless. As Jean criticizes Berenger's behavior and appearance, they see a rhinoceros galloping through town. Jean and other townsfolk are shocked, but Berenger remains calm, thinking there must be a good explanation. Berenger's response annoys Jean, who exclaims that a rhinoceros roaming the street is dangerous. Then Berenger notices a young woman, his coworker Daisy, pass by. Because of his infatuation with Daisy, Berenger is ashamed of having her see him in his disheveled state. Noticing this reaction, Jean tries to get Berenger to improve his life to impress Daisy. Berenger agrees to stop drinking and to refine himself.

Berenger, Jean, Daisy, and other townsfolk again see a rhinoceros storming through the town. A townswoman wails because it has trampled her cat to death. Townsfolk comfort the housewife as Jean and Berenger get in an argument about whether they saw the same rhinoceros or a second one. Soon the townsfolk become more interested in the argument than in comforting the housewife. Jean leaves in a huff. A logician at the café, too, becomes involved and calmly and elaborately explains to Berenger that he is approaching the debate in the wrong manner because he doesn't state the problem correctly. Berenger regrets quarreling with Jean and has a drink.

At the local law office, an employee named Dudard and the secretary, Daisy, try to convince another employee, Botard, about at least one rhinoceros galloping through the town. Botard remains unconvinced, saying that the rhinoceros sightings are unscientific. Berenger arrives a little late for his work there and says he also saw the rhinoceros, but Botard still isn't convinced. The office chief Mr. Papillon ("butterfly") tells everyone to get back to work, but Dudard and Botard soon resume their argument about the rhinoceros. Berenger mentions that Mr. Boeuf ("ox") is absent from work. Soon a flustered Mrs. Boeuf enters, mentions her husband has the flu, and claims a rhinoceros chased her to the office. Everyone hears trumpeting and the stairs crashing from a heavy weight. The office employees go to the stair landing and see a rhinoceros down below. Mrs. Boeuf reaches the landing and is shocked when she realizes her husband is the rhinoceros. Unwilling to leave her husband, she jumps down onto the rhinoceros's back and rides away. Stunned, Botard has difficulty explaining the rhinoceroses and eventually claims it's all part of a sinister plot. Firemen arrive and hoist a ladder to a window. The employees descend the ladder one by one.

Berenger goes to visit Jean at his apartment. Jean appears to be ill; his voice is hoarse and he has a cough. Berenger apologizes about the argument they had at the café. Jean admits he doesn't feel well but gets defensive when Berenger suggests what might be wrong. Berenger points out a small bump on Jean's forehead, which causes Jean to check it out in the bathroom. When Jean returns, Berenger notices his friend's green-looking skin and heavy breathing. Berenger tells Jean to call a doctor, but Jean gets angry and tells Berenger to mind his own business. Berenger mentions that Jean is being nasty and misanthropic. Jean claims that people disgust him as his skin becomes greener and his skin tougher. Jean says that he thinks Mr. Boeuf chose to become a rhinoceros because being such an animal is a good thing. According to Jean, human morals should be replaced by the law of the jungle. Berenger cannot believe Jean means this. Soon Jean's bump turns into a horn about the size of a rhinoceros horn. Jean charges into the bathroom and Berenger shuts the door, shouting, "He's a rhinoceros!" Berenger goes out on the stair landing and realizes other people in the apartment building have changed into rhinoceroses. Terrified, he goes back into Jean's apartment, looks out the window, and sees a herd of rhinoceroses charging past. The bathroom door is about to break loose from Jean pushing against it. Berenger flees down the street.

Back at his apartment, Berenger is paranoid about changing into a rhinoceros himself. Dudard visits and tells Berenger not to worry about it. Dudard can't explain the rhinoceros transformation, but he is calmly observing the facts to figure it out. Berenger claims the transformations are evil, but Dudard says they are a matter of personal preference. Dudard mentions Papillon has become a rhinoceros, which shocks Berenger. Dudard says people should rely on objective, scientific analysis to explain the rhinoceroses, but Berenger counters that relying on intuition is better. Berenger yells angrily at rhinoceroses on the street below and then notices one of them is the logician.

Daisy comes to visit, bringing food for lunch. She calmly mentions Botard has changed into a rhinoceros as have many other people. She also claims 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 compelled to join the rhinoceroses and leaves the apartment. The heads of rhinoceroses appear on the wall, and in some odd way, they begin to seem beautiful. Berenger and Daisy finally declare their love for each other and assert their love will protect them. Daisy tells Berenger to calm down and not to feel guilty because doing this would spoil their happiness. When Berenger answers the phone, he hears the noise of rhinoceroses over the receiver. Then he turns on the radio and hears more rhinoceros noises. Berenger and Daisy realize they are the only humans left. The noise of rhinoceroses surround them, causing the house to shake. Daisy wonders if she and Berenger are the abnormal ones, not the rhinoceroses. She becomes intoxicated by the sound and movement of the rhinoceroses and leaves the apartment, too.

Distraught, Berenger wonders if he should try to communicate with the rhinoceroses with the hope of changing them back to humans. He feels ugly and wants to look and sound like a rhinoceros. Suddenly, he declares he'll fight them all. He's the last man standing and intends to stay that way.

Rhinoceros Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Jean criticizes Berenger's appearance and behavior.

Rising Action

2 Jean, Berenger, and others see a rhinoceros in town.

3 Mrs. Boeuf realizes her husband is a rhinoceros.

4 Berenger sees Jean transform into a rhinoceros.

5 Dudard joins the people who have become rhinoceroses.

6 Berenger and Daisy realize they are the only humans left.


7 Daisy joins the rhinoceroses, leaving Berenger alone.

Falling Action

8 Berenger feels drawn to become a rhinoceros.


9 Berenger defiantly resists becoming a rhinoceros.

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