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Rhinoceros | Symbols



The rhinoceros is among the largest and most belligerent of all species. Should a rhinoceros suddenly appear among humans, chaos would ensue. A mob mentality would create hysteria as people sought an escape. In an absurd world, however, the rhinoceros can become the norm. People can suddenly find the rhinoceros desirable, even beautiful, and the hysteria can center on becoming part of the rhinoceros pack rather than trying to escape it.

Just as totalitarian regimes fed on the mass hysteria of crowds gathered to watch parades and shows of force, in Rhinoceros the people become infatuated with the beasts and choose to join the rushing, trumpeting animals. The beasts transform from brutes to creatures that inspire even Daisy to draw close to "the ardor and the tremendous energy emanating" from them. The animals stand for human willingness to join groups, even when the groups are destructive and savage.

Broken Objects

Broken objects represent the destruction of civilization. The author gradually increases the use of this symbol as the play progresses to show the process of civilization collapsing. In Act 1 a wine bottle breaks when the housewife sees a rhinoceros and drops her basket. This incident foreshadows the many broken objects to come as civilization continues to crumble. In Act 2, Scene 1 a rhinoceros destroys a stairway leading to a legal office, indicating the collapse of the justice system. In Act 2, Scene 2 Jean destroys objects in his room as he transforms into a rhinoceros, representing the destruction of personal relationships, such as Jean's friendship with Berenger. In Act 3 the rhinoceroses destroy a fire station, symbolizing the destruction of civilization's institutions.

The Cat

The cat represents the innocent victims destroyed by the brute force that often accompanies social upheaval. The cat does nothing wrong except get in the way of a stampeding rhinoceros. The same could be said for fascist movements, which are known for destroying anything, including people, that gets in the way of their growth. The author emphasizes how innocent victims like the cat are easily forgotten by society. At first townsfolk show polite sadness for the housewife and her dead cat, but they are soon distracted by a silly argument between Jean and Berenger. People's sympathy for innocent victims of harsh, unjust behavior tends to be superficial as they are more concerned with the distractions of their own concerns.

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