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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
In the tradition of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, and Harold Pinter's plays, Ionesco's drama combines abstract philosophical ideas with concrete humor. The various rationalizations that characters come up with to explain their previous errors delight us with their silliness, but they also suggest deeper ideas about logic and responsibility. As many of the plays from the Theatre of the Absurd go, Rhinoceros is conscious of itself as a play, as when Jean suggests Berenger sees one of Ionesco's plays, but more so in the ways that it forces the audience to recognize the production before them as a play and not as a diversion. A production with back-lit rhinoceros heads stakes no claim to the typical drama's attempts to suspend the audience's disbelief, but this is the point: Ionesco breaks the "fourth wall" of the theater (and numerous other walls and structures explode in the play) to make the audience leave the theater feeling that the absurdity they witnessed was somehow more real than a "realistic" play.
Ionesco makes a number of critiques of the emptiness of the bourgeois working world. The root of Berenger's apathy seems to spring from his boring job, and Act Two presents us with the drudgery of his office, its repetitive work, and its shallow relationships built to serve the corporation. Jean recommends that Berenger improve his cultural vocabulary, but Jean's appreciation for the avant- garde theater, for instance, is clearly only a surface interest or he would not succumb so easily to the rhinoceroses. Berenger's reliance upon alcohol is understandable—the ennui of daily life is too great not to escape. In fact, the escapism of alcohol is a trope for the escapism of the metamorphoses; both Berenger and the others feel they regain their lost identities in their respective escapes. The others, then, are similarly oppressed by their jobs (Jean feels it is something one must get used to), though Berenger seems to be the only one who has a deeper awareness of the way bourgeois life crushes his spirit.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Rhinoceros!