Rhinoceros – E. Ionesco

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Ionesco E. (1959), Rhinocéros, Paris: Gallimard

Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is the first book that I read in 2016 and boy, oh boy was it a good choice! The plot is set in a provincial French town where the inhabitants suddenly turn to rhinoceroses.

This play, full of symbolisms and allegories, harshly criticizes Nazism and the indifference shown by both people and countries towards the subject at hand. Totalitarian regimes, herd mentality and hypocrisy are metaphorically, yet thoroughly, examined.

The lead character, Bérenger, is at first portrayed as an anti-hero: an alcoholic, uneducated and passive human being. However, true to his humanistic instincts, he manages to prove every one of his interlocutors wrong.

As always, there are many intertextual references. One of the most obvious is Karl Marx’s statement:

BOTARD to Didard:
An example of collective psychosis, Mr Dudard.
Just like religion -the opium of the people!

while another one, slightly more hidden, refers to Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum”. A paraphrase of the aforementioned proposition can be found in a work by the second “father” of the Theater of the Absurd i.e. in Beckett’s Endgame.

BERANGER:
I sometimes wonder if I exist myself.
JEAN to Beranger:
You don’t exist, my dear Beranger, because you don’t think.
Start thinking and you’ll exist.

HAMM: [Letting go his toque.] What’s he doing?
[CLOV raises lid of NAGG’s bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.]
CLOV: He’s crying.
[He closes the lid, straightens up.]
HAMM: Then he’s living. (p.38)

Like most plays this too is easy to read, despite it’s deepest meanings. I highly recommend it!

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