Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beware of Becoming a Rhinoceros

One of the biggest ironies in Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros, is that those in Berenger’s town who should be the most intelligent and logical are just the opposite. The Logician, for example, uses flawed logic in the first Act.

In the first Act, Berenger meets with his friend Jean at a Café, where Jean berates Berenger for his unkempt clothing and hair, and for his lateness. Jean also points out that Berenger has been drinking a lot, noticing his hang-over. Berenger is contrasted to Jean, who is wears neatly pressed clothing and a perfectly straight tie. It is during their conversation when a rhinoceros suddenly stampedes through the town square, surprising everyone. The Logician then pipes up, saying “Fear is an irrational thing. It must yield to reason” (10). After the interruption, Jean and Berenger’s conversation is then mixed with that of the Logician and the Old Gentleman who sit behind them at the café.

Bestowing much wisdom to the Old Gentleman, the Logician begins to explain syllogisms: “Here is an example of a syllogism. The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot both have four paws. Therefore Isidore and Fricot are cats.” The Old Gentleman points out that his dog has four paws, to which the Logician replies: “Then it’s a cat” (18).

The Logician obviously uses flawed logic; an irony that is not lost on the reader. He presents syllogisms as synonymous to logic, though syllogisms are known to use flawed logic. The Old Gentleman, however, is impressed with him and takes him to be an intelligent person. He marvels: “Logic is a very beautiful thing” (19).

The Logician’s logic is flawed because he does not take into account other animals that have four paws. Having four paws does not make something a cat. If a cat were missing a leg, then, according to his logic, it would no longer be a cat. But this is, of course, not true. What else would it be if not a cat?

Wayne C. Booth brings out that it is important to supply evidence to your claims, and to supply objections to those claims. He advises writers in The Craft of Research:

If you plan your argument only around claims, reasons and evidence, your readers may think that your argument is flatfooted, even naïve. You will seem less like an inquirer amiably engaging intelligent but feisty colleagues in conversation than like a lecturer droning at an empty room…You have to imagine them [your readers] asking questions.

Booth states that if you do not offer objections to your claims and only present your evidence, your argument will not be a strong one. This is exactly what the Logician doesn’t do, he only offers supporting evidence of his bizarre claims, not allowing the Old Gentleman to prove him wrong.

One important line that the Logician tells the Old Gentleman is that: “Logic means justice” (24). This is the point of the play. Logic can be manipulated to prove things that are not true, and can get people to do things that are irrational or even horrible. So the Logician is actually proving the opposite, that “logic” can bring about things that are not just.

Ionesco wanted to warn his readers of blindly following the group. Assuming the claims made by those in authority or the “educated” are automatically logical, without closely evaluating them yourself, is a dangerous thing. Ionesco wrote Rhinoceros as an explanation as to how the Holocaust happened. People turn into rhinoceroses in Ionesco’s play, starting out with one person, then with many who give up their humanity in order to become a part of the increasing group of rhinoceroses. Even those who at first state that they would never assimilate, do, like Jean, who presents himself as a perfectly well-mannered and logical human being. This group-mentality is what made the Holocaust possible.

The Logician and Old Gentleman’s conversation is interrupted by Jean who tells Berenger that he is not logical. Another irony in the play is that Berenger is actually the only one who is logical in the entire town, and by the end of the play, Berenger is the only one who refuses to turn into a rhinoceros. Berenger adamantly declares: “I’m not capitulating!” (107) at the end of the play, when he is the last human being left.

Works Cited:

Smith, Peter, ed. Rhinoceros and Other Plays. New York: John Calder Publishers, 1960.

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