Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


The rhinoceroses are a blunt symbol of man's inherent savage nature but, to Ionesco's credit, the articulation of this idea deploys slowly throughout the play: the first rhino causes no apparent damage; the second one tramples a cat; later ones destroy more property and Jean-as-rhinoceros attacks Berenger. They represent both fascist tyranny and the absurdity of a universe that could produce such metamorphoses. These ideas crystallize into one question: how could humans be this savage, allowing the barbarity of World War II Nazism? Ionesco answers this in a variety of ways. He equates the epidemic of the metamorphoses with the ways the ideals of Nazism can infect the unconscious minds of individuals. Yet the rhinos become more beautiful and humans more ugly by the end of the play. They are beautiful, however, because of their brute strength and power; true beauty, as Berenger demonstrates when he finally decides to fight the rhinos and save humanity, lies in moral strength.