on 11 January 2005
Euguene Ionesco (1912-1994) was born in Romania, but lived a great part of his life in France. He was an important exponent of what became known as "the Theatre of Absurd", a kind of avant garde theatre that was born more or less in the 1950s and that somehow manages to transmit a message through irrational speech and strange occurrences that take place in what seem at first glance as common situations. Other exponents of this kind of theatre are, for example, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and Harold Pinter
"Rhinoceros" was written by Ionesco in 1958, and has a strange plot. The main character is Berenger, a Frenchman who likes to drink a lot. Berenger doesn't seem to mind when a rhinoceros first appears running past his town square, while he is talking with his friend Jean. Everybody else is astounded, but they are truly horrified when the same rhinoceros (or maybe another one) returns and even kills a cat. Even that doesn't shake Berenger, unfortunately. The situation is almost dramatically altered later, when Berenger realizes that many of his acquaintances are turning into rhinoceros without apparent reason. The pertinent questions are quite a few, for instance: will rhinoceros ultimately prevail?. And can an average person resist to conformity, or is the temptation to be like everybody else to big?.
This book can be understood as a metaphore regarding nazism and its diffusion in Germany, and has a lot to do with Ionesco's experiences with the Nazis. However, its main theme is the rise of totalitarism, the kind of behaviour and relativism that takes a country to that, and the dehumanization of those that succumb to conformism (like the human beings that slowly turn into rhinoceros, almost indistinguishable from each other). Due to that, "Rhinoceros" was considered a dangerous play by more than one totalitarism. For instance, the play was to be produced in the URSS, but the government wouldn't allow it to be played if Ionesco didn't say that the rhinoceros were the Nazis and not them. As Ionesco refused to do so, "Rhinoceros" couldn't be played...
On the whole, I can say that I really liked this play. It is interesting, easy to read (yes, without overly difficult vocabulary!!) and has a deeper meaning that shouldn't be lost to us. That is, conformity isn't the answer when an stampede of "rhinoceros" tries to run over us...
on 5 May 1999
Ionesco focuses on the dangers of mass, collective hysteria and asserts the need to remain stronger than others who are weak willed. The protagonist, Berenger, tries to resist the impending disease of 'rhinoceritis', as all those near to him succumb. He remains at the end a hero of defiance.