Why is the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco considered absurdist?

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Hollis Sanders eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Rhinoceros is considered to be an absurdist play because, though it functions as an allegory for the rise of European totalitarianism, the world of the play maintains a reality that is repetitive, surreal, and ultimately meaningless as a means to display the absurdity of the human condition. If rhinoceroses were to suddenly appear in the the world in which we live in the middle of a city, the only question on anyone's mind would be how and why they got there.

However, instead, the characters endlessly debate the merits of being a rhinoceros, insisting that rhinoceroses have a right to exist in the city the same as any of them. Slowly the people are all turned into rhinoceroses except for the alcoholic, melancholy protagonist Berenger. He breaks down, everyone in the story having become a rhino except for him.

This is an absurd portrait of political change that functions as an ironic lesson. The play is read as outrageous because it should seem obvious that the human beings in the play are approaching the threat of rhinos incorrectly. However, humans in reality have functioned the exact same way during the rise of fascism time and time again over the course of history.

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Petra Robel eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ionesco's The Rhinoceros is an absurdist play because things happen which are outside of ordinary reality. Bérenger plays the one "normal" character in the play, the observer of the absurd occurrences. First a rhinoceros runs down the street, startling everyone, then Mrs. Boeuf appears at Bérenger's workplace, saying she's been chased by a rhino who's actually her husband transformed into one. These are easy to see as absurd events, completely beyond the normal or rational realm.

Things get stranger still as the entire town becomes transformed; everyone is turning...

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