Existentialism in Eugene Lonesco's " Rhinoceros"

Essay by fluxA+, November 1996

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I awoke sweating. Breathing heavily, I glanced over at my clock and read the time. 4:00 AM. I wasn't sure if this was reality or not so I ran my palm over my scalp. No bump. A sigh of relief came over me. 'Phew,' I said, 'it was only a dream.'

This is a dream I have had often throughout the past couple of years. Each time, the bump in my dream gets bigger and bigger and each time I wake up I'm more and more frightened that the dream was real. 'I will not be a rhinoceros,' I tell myself over and over. 'I will not.'

These words I tell myself are nearly meaningless though. They are words and nothing more. Futile attempts to ease the pain of my 'rhinocerotic' life. The only way to really not become a rhinoceros is by making the existential decision not to do so.

A main theme in Eugene Ionesco's, Rhinoceros, is that true meaning resides in action rather than in mere words. A resistance to taking action then results in one's becoming a rhinoceros. Jean illustrates this in the beginning of Act 2, scene 2, when we see Jean and Berenger bickering. Berenger feels that Jean isn't looking or feeling well and threatens to get him a doctor. Jean resists by saying, 'You're not going to get the doctor because I don't want the doctor. I can look after myself.' (pp. 62) This refusal comes from his arrogant view of himself as a 'Master of [his] own thoughts,' (pp. 61) and '[Having] will-power!' (pp. 7) By seeing the doctor, Jean would have put himself in the position of taking responsibility for his actions and seeing that he wasn't always the 'master of his own thoughts' and that his will-power was...