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Rhinoceros

Eugène Ionesco

Important Quotations Explained

Act Three (part two)

Key Facts

"I sometimes wonder if I exist myself."

Berenger's statement in Act One expresses existential doubt and counters the well-known philosophical premise of 17th-century philosopher Rene Descartes, considered a cornerstone of Western philosophy. Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am," or, in other words, the ability to think is the only proof of existence. Berenger's thinking that he may not exist articulates the foundation of existentialist philosophy, the formula "existence precedes essence," which states that humans are born ("existence") before they gain any soul or meaning in life ("essence"). However, for Berenger, neither physical nor mental existence is enough to count for true existence; he needs a life committed to something significant. His overriding love for humanity and decision to save them constitutes his essence.

"There are certain things which enter the minds of even people without one."

Jean's insult to Berenger in Act One helps explain, in a different context, how millions were swayed to fascism. Ionesco builds up a concept of collective consciousness (later referred to in the play as "collective psychosis"), a universal mentality that compromises the individual mind. These minds, like Berenger's, evade responsibility and choice and allow external ideas to enter without an internal check. After World War II, people were wondering how the widespread fascist atrocities could have taken place, how such brutal ideas could have engaged humanity. Ionesco's play attempts to posit an answer, pinning the blame less on man's tendency to evil than his tendency not to think for himself.

"So then logically speaking, my dog must be a cat?"

"Logically, yes. But the contrary is also true."

This exchange comes at the end of the Logician's syllogism-tutorial of the Old Gentleman in Act One. In a world in which the atrocities of fascism can take place, Ionesco classifies the logic that orders the universe as absurd and inexplicable, beyond human rationality. The Logician is mercilessly parodied for his comic missteps in proving even a simple syllogism, as here, or when he unsuccessfully tries to explain why the rhinoceroses are appearing. In this scene, Ionesco demonstrates the inapplicability of logic to human emotion as he parallels the Logician's incoherent proof with Berenger's attempts to provide some rational reason for his unhappiness./EXPLANATION

"When you're involved yourself…you can't help feeling directly concerned."

To answer why other countries, such as the US, failed to react swiftly to Nazi atrocities, Ionesco reminds us that when one is not in the midst of conflict, it is easy to be a detached observer. Only through his position in a world of overt absurdity does Berenger (in Act Three) begin to acknowledge the necessity to commit to a life of significance. Berenger's prior apathy towards life did contribute to the overall lack of will that made the epidemic possible. Yet it is this original indifference, combined with his awareness of the absurd universe, which galvanizes his own metamorphosis into a being committed to free will.

"I'm not capitulating!"

These words of Berenger's close the curtain on the play, and fully transform his character from being indifferent and alienated to committed and humane. His will wavers many times after Daisy leaves (shortly before this quote), and he seems on the verge of joining the rhinos. But his will, which was foreshadowed as strongly committed to individualism and humanity despite its conventional weaknesses (his propensity to drink, his apathy towards his job, his lateness), comes through in the end. Some may read this as an ambiguous ending, since Berenger might simply change his mind again after the curtain closes, but the optimistic note the play ends on reinforces the idea that, in an absurd world, we must commit ourselves to something significant to lend meaning to the absurdity.

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