Rhinoceros

Summary

Act Two (part two)

Summary Act Two (part two)

Jean's strength of will comes under fire in this scene, but he tries to appropriate his own meaning of will, one that constantly shifts. He claims that he never dreams, a sharp contrast to Berenger in Act One, who wondered if life is all a dream. Jean believes he is "master" of his own thoughts, but his mastery of his own body is in doubt. Just as he rationalized hypocritical behavior in Act One, Jean again makes excuses for his transformation to reclaim a sense of free will; he claims he simply "felt like" making a growling sound and that it indicates nothing. For him, will becomes a mark purely of physical power, not individual freedom. His call for a reduction of morality to the savage laws of nature works off of his prior belief in a Nietzschean super-man who can circumvent morality. This transformation is plausible; from the start, Jean's interest in culturing himself only seemed like a means to increase his power and respect, and not as an exploration of his humanity. Berenger, on the other hand, foreshadows his future status as the true super-man who saves the world with morality. He makes a willful decision to try and save Jean, though he flees at the end of the scene, maintaining the play's suspense over the inevitable question: will Berenger commit to something significant and remain human, or will he evade responsibility and become a rhinoceros?

Jean hints at the fascist underpinnings of the metamorphoses, alluding to Mr. Boeuf's Jekyll and Hyde-like "secret" life. Under bourgeois propriety, Ionesco implies, savagery lurks. It is Jean, who held up fascist ideals of human perfection and efficiency as a human, who turns into a far more savage rhino than Boeuf was. He even tries to convince Berenger that Berenger's voice is actually changing, exhibiting paranoia as Botard did in the previous scene when he charged conspiracy. Berenger says that the traditional view of the rhino as a solitary animal is outdated, suggesting a possible reason for Ionesco's choice of the rhino as his symbol of a fascist beast: humans, with their fear of individualistic thought, turn the otherwise solitary rhinos into faceless hordes. Berenger continues Ionesco's defense of the fascists' right to live so long as they do not harm anyone. However, Jean's horn does pierce Berenger, showing fascism's inevitable turn to violence.