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Though they are not human characters, and they never appear on-stage in full form, the projections of rhino heads and off-stage trumpeting dominates the play. The rhinoceroses stand, above all, for man's latent savagery and capacity for violence. The rhinos themselves are not to blame; they are generally a solitary species, as Berenger notes, but the collective consciousness of man and the tendency toward safety in numbers turns them into a hostile, totalitarian herd reminiscent of Nazis. Nevertheless, Ionesco makes sure to flesh out the rhinoceroses' characterizations. When Mr. Boeuf turns into a rhino, he trumpets tenderly to his wife, who can recognize her husband through his green skin. Not all of Boeuf's humanity is lost, and it appears that the individual man affects the characteristics of the rhino he becomes. To nuance their depictions even more, Ionesco has the rhinos become more beautiful and majestic as the play progresses until, by the end of the play, they outshine the ugliness of humanity. This technique makes the audience see how one's individual perceptions can be altered by mass opinion, how the savage, destructive rhinos, much like the Nazis, could be seductive to someone who doubts his own strength and will.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rhinoceros!