Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The central theme of The Chairs, as Ionesco himself stated, is “nothingness,” and this theme is concretely embodied in the physical prop of the chairs themselves. They come to represent the existential void that the play depicts. The empty chairs and the invisible crowd become a metaphor for the reality of unreality, just as the unreal, anachronistic, and absurd appearance of the Orator suggests the unreality of reality. The contradictory and absurd nature of the human condition is also embodied in the characters of the Old Man and the Old Woman, who exist in isolation and try vainly to impose order and meaning on the emptiness that surrounds their existence. The Old Man feels “the responsibility of radiating upon posterity the light of [his] mind.” The futility of this feeling is personified by the professional Orator who has been hired to deliver the message. The Orator is a deaf-mute who pitifully mocks the very notion of message and meaning with his unintelligible guttural noises and the nonsensical message he writes on the blackboard.

The overriding theme of the absurdity of the human condition is bolstered by related themes and patterns which challenge traditional social structures and institutions. Language itself is devalued and often becomes merely a meaningless babble of puns and non sequiturs between the Old Man and the Old Woman. Communication is rendered additionally absurd by the fact that most of the dialogue in the play is...

(The entire section is 589 words.)


(Drama for Students)

Many of the events in The Chairs are absurd, underscoring the loneliness of human existence and the hunger for...

(The entire section is 443 words.)