Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Lesson satirizes totalitarianism in education, politics, language, psychology, and sexuality. This play is typical of Eugène Ionesco in its parodies, irony, nonsense, and themes of contradiction, proliferation, repetition, circularity, interchangeability, and futility.

The Professor exhibits the tendencies of bourgeois consciousness, especially reductive reasoning, to oppress and destroy the best in human nature—the Pupil—based upon repression of instinct, represented by the Maid. However, this description is itself reductive, for the free, imaginative spirit of the play transcends its own conceptual structure, through absurdity. The absurd shatters the order of rational consciousness and shocks or seduces it into at least a momentary acceptance of a larger reality, as when the self-contradicting Professor accepts from his Pupil the answer that seven plus one is sometimes nine: “We can’t be sure of anything, young lady, in this world.”

Some critics see the Professor as modeled on Ionesco’s father and some of his teachers in Romania who were Nazis. At the end of the play, the explicit reference to a Nazi swastika points to a historical case that exemplifies on a world scale the psychodynamics of the repressed, provincial teacher, the Professor. The way he teaches makes him deadly whatever political form his opinions may take, and he is killing pupils every day.

The other characters, also, are what Ionesco...

(The entire section is 543 words.)