Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Town square

Town square. Typical small French town, perhaps close to Paris, in which the play opens shortly before noon on a sunny summer Sunday. The grocer’s is open, as is the café-bar with chairs and tables outside. Although the time period is not made clear, it is probably a couple of decades earlier than the time of writing.


Office. Place where Berenger works, in which the play’s second act opens. It may or may not be a government office; it has an old-fashioned air, with pens and an inkwell mentioned, as well as typewriters, chairs, tables, and desks, and an inner office for its chief. The main office is reached by climbing up a set of wooden stairs and is thus beyond the reach of a charging rhinoceros.

Jean’s home

Jean’s home. Two rooms of an apartment house in which Berenger’s friend Jean lives and in which the second scene of act 2 is set. Jean is in bed in his bed-sitting room when Berenger calls; the other room is his offstage bathroom. The apartment’s furnishings are simple and sparse. It is still Monday morning, because Berenger has been forced out of his office by the rhinoceros attack. Jean’s metamorphosis to rhinoceros occurs during the second scene of act 2.

Berenger’s room

Berenger’s room. This is as simple as Jean’s with a bed and a chair, but it also contains a telephone and a radio. The day is unspecified but is probably Tuesday. Outside the building, many of the townsfolk are now rhinoceroses, charging up and down the street in large herds, which grow larger as Berenger is visited by his colleagues, first Dudard and then Daisy the typist, to whom he desperately declares his love. The telephone rings, but only rhinoceroses are on the line. They turn on the radio but it broadcasts only the musical trumpetings of rhinoceroses. There is no hope.

Rhinoceros Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Danner, G. Richard. “Bérenger’s Defense of Humanity in Rhinocéros.” French Review: Journal of the American Association of the Teachers of French 53, no. 2 (December, 1979): 207-214. An illuminating article that explores the beliefs of the main character of Rhinoceros. The author finds a number of complexities in Berenger’s struggle to maintain his own humanity and to justify that of others.

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3d rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1980. A good place to begin any research on Ionesco’s plays. Examines how Rhinoceros connects with Ionesco’s earlier works and suggests that this work, which on one level seems quite comprehensive, is in fact highly ambiguous.

Jacquart, Emmanuel. “Ionesco’s Political Itinerary.” In The Dream and the Play: Ionesco’s Theatrical Quest, edited by Moshe Lazar. Malibu, Calif.: Undena, 1982. Ionesco’s Everyman, Berenger appears in several plays that characterize government and society as oppressive. This article offers an interesting look at the political implications of Rhinoceros. Helpful to an understanding of the playwright’s political views.

Lane, Nancy. Understanding Eugène Ionesco. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. Although many have come to regard Ionesco’s work as dated and limited, Lane sees his work as continuing to be both significant and relevant to the modern stage. Her discussion of Rhinoceros is guided by her belief that it is one of Ionesco’s major plays.

Rigg, Patricia. “Ionesco’s Berenger: Existential Philosopher or Philosophical Ironist?” Modern Drama 35, no. 4 (December, 1992): 538-551. A lucid examination of Rhinoceros and its main character. In trying to determine whether Berenger is an existential hero or an embodiment of paradox, Rigg manages to illuminate much of the philosophical background of the play.