Sunday Selections: Rhinoceros

In this week’s pick for Sunday Selections I am going with Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco.

Written as a commentary and criticism of fascism and Nazism, this play is the story of an everyman who watches his town succumb to rhinocerization—that is, turning into rhinoceroses. (Which by the way… is really hard to stage. Trust me. But it’s worth it.) This play is of course an allegory which represents people of all walks of life conforming to mob mentality and abandoning their humanity and empathy. People who embrace false logic, turn their backs on the truth, and become incapable—or maybe unwilling, to think critically about things. Plays like this are a stark reminder that anything is possible, but it also gives us hope with the character Berenger.

Berenger is a reminder that in life, not everything is as it seems. It’s easy for the characters to write off Berenger as a screw up, because of his slovenly lifestyle. I think he’s this way because he recognizes the absurdity of the human condition, long before the rhinos take over. We all have our ways of dealing with things. He’s wiser and more empathetic than people realize. And on that note, he’s not perfect either. And that’s ok. An activist doesn’t have to be without fault, and I wish more people realized that.

What I really appreciated about this play was the fact that it delves into the complex reality of why people capitulate to this mob mentality in the first place. The rhinos are seen as grotesque at first, but after a while they have a sense of allure which draws people in. Considering Ionesco based this play off of his own lived experience, I have to say that making a choice like this takes empathy and courage. What’s more, it shows the importance of critical thinking which is the first step in social justice and bringing about change.

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