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Rhinoceros, and Other Plays Summary & Study Guide Description
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Now, out of context that is not such an alarming statement: It could be said in almost any society. Yet knowing what we know, it sounds an alarm. This is a man who will conform, will buckle under, will take orders. Who will morph into a rhinoceros.
Other town denizens include tradespeople, an office manager and several of his browbeaten employees, and various neighbors. The lawyer Dudard is the classic middle of the road apologist. Certain illnesses are good for you…. Perhaps Ionesco was thinking of some of the heroes of the underground and Holocaust resistance—who were they, where did they come from, what gave them the moral fiber to stand firm against fascism when so many around them caved?
As it was in , when the play received its memorable Broadway production, re-imagined in America, not France, with the formerly blacklisted Zero Mostel in the role of Jean, renamed John. The American scholar Anne Quinney argues that the play, which obviously was based on real events, was autobiographical, and reflected Ionesco's own youth in Romania. Ionesco was born in Romania to a Romanian father and French mother.
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Ionesco's father was a Romanian ultra-nationalist of the Orthodox faith with few political scruples, who was willing to support whatever party was in power - while his mother was a French Protestant who came from a family of Sephardic Jews who had converted to Calvinism to better fit into French society. In the increasing antisemitic atmosphere of Romania in the interwar period, being even partly ethnically Jewish was enough to put Ionesco in danger.
The Israeli historian Jean Ancel states that the Romanian intelligentsia had a "schizophrenic attitude towards the West and its values," yet considered the West, especially France, to be their role model. At the same time antisemitism was rampant in Romania. Most Romanian Jews were descendants of Ashkenazi Jews who had moved to Romania in the 18th and 19th centuries from Poland. A recurring claim of the Romanian radical right was that most Romanian Jews were illegal immigrants or had obtained Romanian citizenship fraudulently.
In the 19th century, the newly independent Romanian state proved very reluctant to grant citizenship to Romania's Jews, and a volatile atmosphere of antisemitism flourished with many intellectuals like A. Cuza claiming the Jews were a foreign and alien body in Romania that needed to be removed.
In interwar Romania, the most virulent and violent antisemitic movement was the fascist Iron Guard founded in by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. As a university student, Ionesco saw one of his professors, Nae Ionescu , who taught philosophy at the University of Bucharest, use his lectures to recruit his students into the Legion. In an interview in , Ionesco explained the play's message as an attack on those Romanians who become caught up in the "ideological contagion" of the Legion: . University professors, students, intellectuals were turning Nazi, becoming Iron Guards one after another.
We were fifteen people who used to get together, to find arguments, to discuss, to try to find arguments opposing theirs. It was not easy From time to time, one of the group would come out and say 'I don't agree at all with them, to be sure, but on certain points, I must admit, for example the Jews Three weeks later, that person would become a Nazi.
He was caught in a mechanism, he accepted everything, he became a Rhinoceros. Towards the end, it was only three or four of us who resisted. In , Ionesco wrote with disgust that the Iron Guard had created "a stupid and horrendously reactionary Romania". Romania had a very large intelligentsia relative to its share of the population with 2. Even before the Great Depression, Romania's universities were turning out far more graduates than there were jobs for, and a mood of rage, desperation and frustration prevailed on campuses as it was apparent to most Romanian students that the middle class jobs that they were hoping for after graduation did not exist.
In interwar Romania, Jews played much the same role as Greeks and Armenians did in the Ottoman Empire and the ethnic Chinese minorities do in modern Malaysia and Indonesia, namely a commercially successful minority much resented for their success. The Legion's call to end the "Jewish colonization" of Romania by expelling all the Jews, whom the Legion claimed were all illegal immigrants from Poland, and confiscate their assets so that Christian Romanians could rise up to the middle class, was very attractive to many university students.
Codreanu's call for a Romania without individualism, where all Romanians would be spiritually united together as one, greatly appealed to the young people who believed that when Codreanu created his "new man" omul nou , it would be the moment that a utopian society would come into existence. Ionesco felt that the way in which so many of his generation, especially university students, had abandoned the French ideas about universal human rights in favor of the death cult of the Legion, was a "betrayal" both personally and in a wider political sense of the sort of society Romania should be.
It is true. And of the second hand left, which had been a radical socialist Maybe I should had belonged to the left for a while, maybe I should have been of the left before being-not of the right-of the non-left, an enemy of the left. But at a certain moment, the left was no longer the left, at a certain moment the left become a right of horror, a right of terror and that's what I was denouncing, the terror. Likewise, once a character repeats a platitudinous expression such as "It's never too late! In the first act, the character of the logician says: "I am going to explain to you what a syllogism is The syllogism consists of a main proposition, a secondary one and a conclusion".
The logician gives the example of: "The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot have four paws. Therefore, Isidore and Fricot are cats". Quinney sums up the logician's thinking as: "The logic of this reasoning would allow any conclusion to be true based on two premises, the first of which contains the term that is the predicate of the conclusion and the second of which contains the term that is the subject of the conclusion". Based on this way of thinking as taught by the logician, the character of the old man is able to conclude that his dog is in fact a cat, leading him to proclaim: "Logic is a very beautiful thing", to which the logician replies as "As long as it is not absurd".
It is at this moment that the first rhinoceros appears. One of the leading Romanian intellectuals in the s who joined the Iron Guard was Emil Cioran who in published in Paris a book entitled Syllogismes d'amertume.
After Cioran joined the Legion in , he severed his friendship with Ionesco, an experience that very much hurt the latter. The character of the logician with his obsession with syllogisms and a world of pure reason divorced from emotion is a caricature of Cioran, a man who claimed that "logic" demanded that Romania have no Jews. In the first act of the play, the characters spend much time debating whether the rhinoceroses that have mysteriously appeared in France are African or Asian rhinoceroses, and which of the two types were superior to the other - a debate that Ionesco meant to be a satire on racism.
Regardless of whether the rhinoceros are African or Asian, the French characters comfortably assume their superiority to the rhinoceros; ironically the same people all become rhinoceroses themselves. You are an Asiatic Mongol! Ionesco intended the character of Jean, an ambitious functionary whose careerism robs him of the ability to think critically, to be a satirical portrayal of the French civil servants who served the Vichy government. At various points in the play, Jean shouts out such lines as "We need to go beyond moral standards!
Morality against Nature!
Lines such as these show that Ionesco also created the character of Jean as a satire of the Iron Guard, which attacked all the humanist values of the modern West as "Jewish inventions" designed to destroy Romania, and claimed that there was a "natural law" in which "true" Romanians would discover their "primal energy" as the purest segment of the "Latin race" and assert their superiority over the "lower races". Notably, the more Jean rants about "natural laws" trumping all, the more he transforms into a rhinoceros.
The reference to "Turanian barbarians" was to both the Turks and the Magyars who both "Turanian" peoples from Asia. This tradition of seeing Romania as a bastion of Latinism threatened by enemies everywhere culminated in the s where the Iron Guard argued there were "natural laws" that determined Romania's struggle for existence, which allowed the Legion to justify any act of violence no matter how amoral as necessary because of the "natural laws".
Ionesco parodied the Legion's talk of "natural laws" and "primeval values" by putting dialogue that closely resembled the Legion's rhetoric into Jean as he transforms into a green rhinoceros. At the same time, Ionesco also attacked in Rhinoceros the French intelligentsia , a disproportionate number of whom were proud members of the French Communist Party in the s. Ionesco satirized French Communist intellectuals with the character of Botard, who is clearly the most left-wing character in the play. Botard professes himself to be the champion of progressive values, saying about the debate in regards to the debate over the superiority of African vs.
Asian rhinoceros that: "The color bar is something I feel strongly about, I hate it!