"People have faith in nothing except what he experiences and senses." -Albert Camus
Camus search for ethics starts with three basic statements of the human situation. The first statement is, " God is dead" which is coined by Nietzsche. The second principle is that life is absurd and the third statement is that life is meaningless. These statements seems to be derived from both the death of God and the absurdity of our lives. Camus begins by saying that," the world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together. It binds them one to the other as hatred can weld two creatures together."
Like Albert Camus, Eugene Ionesco, a French absurdist playwright, held the same views. In his play Rhinoceros, Ionesco reveals his fears about the willful infliction of pain and cruelty that is hidden in the human heart and also, through the character of Berenger, Ionesco projects himself into his dramatic play. The Rhinoceros comments on those inherent conditions of mankind that never seem to change. The play indicates that there are some elements that seem timeless when it comes to what humans are capable of and what they have no learned throughout civilization. The play Rhinoceros, shows us our inability to look beyond the surface of people. Through his work, Ionesco and his characters successfully escape the mass mindset by maintaining their individuality, yet as a result they become lost to their society and to themselves. In the play Rhinoceros, Eugene Ionesco, reflects a view that holds the universe to be meaningless, irrational, and absurd.
The play has a series of interesting events. A rhinoceros suddenly appears in a small French town, trampling through the peaceful streets. Soon a giant wave of rhinoceroses suddenly appear; a transformation of human beings into animals. The play centers on one person who at first refuses to succumb to the crowd, but then begins to reason his way to falling into line. Berenger, the last man , remains. Ionesco leaves Berenger untransformed at the end of the play. This play is about the human condition of self delusion.
In other ways, Rhinoceros typifies Ionesco's work and, more generally, the Theatre of the Absurd. The Theatre of the Absurd is a form of drama that emphasizes the absurdity of human existence by having meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations, and plots that lack realistic or any logical development. The Theatre of the Absurd relies on at least some devices in order to reach audiences and make points. By challenging the point of life and the rational nature of humans, Ionesco challenges us to understand ourselves and our actions.
The play's imaginative scope is both broad and outrageous: people grow horns, sprout fur, and become rhinoceroses. Its plot is not traditional but theoretical, featuring philosophical conversations and questions throughout. Ionesco uses a Logician to make his characters think and question. The logician also tries to rationalizes the characters thoughts. For example, In the Logician tries to uncover how many rhinoceroses there were in the first act, and to discover which breed was trampling through the streets. Another example of the plot being theoretical and philosophical is shown in Act two. Botard is convinced that the idea that people are turning into rhinoceroses is a conspiracy theory brought on by the French government.
The play truly is a premier example of the Theater of the Absurd. The idea that people are turning into rhinoceroses is completely absurd. This absurdity, the irrationality within human nature, works brilliantly because it expresses Ionesco's concerns about humanity and lends itself to a critique of society as a whole.
From all the animals why did Eugene Ionesco pick the Rhinoceros? A Rhinoceros is a large, thick skinned animal found in Africa and South Asia that "has one or two horns" (13) on the nose. They are massive, very powerful creatures and herbivorous by nature They possess very acute sense of hearing and smell but lack good eyesight. Symbolically a rhinoceros is typically seen as a warning sign and is often used as a symbol for external power. These creatures stand for confidence, assurance, steadiness, and sure-footedness. Animal symbolism of the rhinoceros revolves around a mass of misguided perception. Thus, rhino is full of contradictions. Here we see the first of many paradoxes that lead us to the underlying symbolic theme of the rhinoceros: "things are not as they seem."
In order to get a full understanding of why Ionesco chose the rhinoceros, one must focus on the color of the animal. Ionesco uses the color green instead of the normal color of gray to describe the transformation of the humans into rhinoceroses .The color green can be symbolically seen as a change, and fresh start and is often associated with metamorphosis, which is fitting into the theme of the play. One of the many reasons why Ionesco picked the rhinoceros is because, human beings by nature feel insecure, nervous, or disconnected. Simply put, the rhino is a creature of substance, stamina, solidity, and explosive power. The Protagonist Berenger was the only man who did not want to change who he was. He never felt uncomfortable in his own skin, therefore I believe that is why he is the last man standing.
Thus, Ionesco presents his themes through the interaction between all of the characters as they reveal themselves to be completely irrational. Another vehicle that Ionesco uses to convey his ideas, is through the character of Berenger. Berenger's struggles with life, such as Ionesco himself. Berenger, much more than any of the other characters, sees the reality of life, and he drinks to escape his vision of it. In the first scene especially, Berenger seems disconnected from the events happening around him. He pays little attention to the first rhinoceros, and he gives the impression of being generally incoherent. When pressed to speculate upon where the rhinoceros came from, Berenger finally says, "Perhaps it's been hiding under a stone? . . . Or maybe it's been nesting on some withered branch?" (15). Berenger appears to be similarly disconnected from and disinterested with life in general. He tells his friend Jean that "life is a dream" (14), and he later says, "Sometimes I wonder if I exist myself" (19). Such existentialist concerns reflect Ionesco's interest in the philosophical problems of his own existence.
Berenger represents Ionesco in other ways as well. He, like Ionesco, searches for ultimate meaning and truth in life. Berenger admires his friends, especially Jean, and he looks to them to find what he is searching for. He cannot understand them because they are foolish and nonsensical, but he assumes that they are too wise and knowledgeable for him to understand. He knows that he has not found ultimate truth in life, but he believes that if he could just become smart like the logician or cultured like Jean, he would find that for which he is searching. His admiration for his friends provides some clue as to why he is so upset when they begin to transform into rhinoceroses. He believes and trusts in them, and he tries to become like them himself. When they become rhinoceroses, Berenger feels let down and also has a sense of personal betrayal. He says, after Jean has turned into a rhinoceros, "I never would have thought it of him, never!" (69). Berenger cannot comprehend the reason for Jean's transformation, and he tries to rationalize it by saying that Jean was "temporarily unbalanced" (75). Berenger is especially distraught when the logician changes because he thinks that the logician would have been able to prove to Dudard that the rhinoceroses are intrinsically evil and not just a natural phenomenon. Berenger's world becomes overshadowed by an encroaching nightmare as his friends succumb to the rhinoceroses one by one. His beliefs in reason, culture, and ultimately love are slowly but inexorably shattered. He is thus cast, alone and adrift, into a hostile, incomprehensible universe.
Despite having a physical transformation like other characters, Berenger had a moral change in character. As Camus said, " people have faith in nothing except what he experiences and senses." Berenger never experienced anything he would consider worthy, thus he is bored by work and life. All he does is drink and wonders if life is a dream. Because if life was a dream it would explain his absurd logic and he would be able to reveal is desires. His lack of passion and thirst for life is incomprehensible to those around him, such as Jean. Berenger acts as if life is meaningless; life is a meaningless waiting room for death. Ionesco leaves Berenger in his true form, because he is the only character who held on tightly to his human identity and kept the thought that life is meaningless, irrational and absurd.