Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The play begins as Bérenger and other patrons are having a drink at an outdoor café. A rhinoceros charges down the street. The characters remark about this strange incident, but soon the initial surprise wears off. The same reaction is repeated when another animal gallops through the street from the opposite direction.
Act 2 begins in the office where Bérenger works. His colleagues are discussing the newspaper account of the animal incident. Mrs. Boeuf rushes in and announces that a rhinoceros has chased her and realizes that it is Mr. Boeuf transformed. Bérenger then visits his friend John, who defends the rhinoceroses, eventually turns into one, and attempts to run Bérenger down.
In act 3, Dudard, one of Bérenger’s colleagues, explains the motives of the rhinoceroses, making it sound like Bérenger, who does not share his views, is abnormal. Daisy, Bérenger’s girlfriend, informs him that Botard, who had supported Bérenger’s views, has joined the animals’ ranks. Bérenger receives only excuses and protests when he rallies the others against the bestiality that has overcome the town. Daisy herself fails to hear him; she gives in to the attraction of the herd and leaves the stage to metamorphose. Bérenger misses the force that belonging to a community provides, but he stands his ground, alone and miserable, in his humanity.
A few elements of fantasy appear in the play; for example, Mr. “Boeuf” means Mr....
(The entire section is 511 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In a square in a small provincial town, a large number of comic types pass by, chatting. Jean and Berenger converse across a table at a sidewalk café. Jean berates his unshaven friend for drinking too much. Berenger complains that his life is still unsettled. Jean, who proceeds to lecture Berenger about duty, tells him that he must get used to life as it is. Everything is interrupted by a rhinoceros, which thunders by immediately offstage. The townspeople are astounded and alarmed. Before long another rhinoceros gallops by, or perhaps it is the same one returning. The civic alarm is noticeably less acute the second time.
To the townspeople comes a startling revelation: The rhinoceroses are townspeople who underwent a strange metamorphosis. By the next day, the number of rhinoceroses is increasing. Berenger visits Jean, who turns into a rhinoceros. His voice becomes progressively hoarser and eventually unintelligible. His manner becomes aggressive and hostile toward humans. He makes periodic checks with the bathroom mirror, each time noting that his skin becomes greener and a bump on his head grows larger. During his last visit to the bathroom Jean’s transformation is complete, and Berenger barely escapes being trampled. As Berenger flees the building, rhinoceros heads pop into view in doorways and windows; the lethargic Berenger goes into a state of panic.
Everyone in the town, except Berenger, changes into a rhinoceros. Berenger seeks...
(The entire section is 429 words.)