Ionesco’s Rhinceros is regarded as an Avant Garde Drama. The term “avant-garde” originated from the French military term, meaning “advance guard” or “vanguard.” In art and culture, it refers to movements and works that are experimental, radical, and often ahead of their time, challenging established norms and conventions. Avant-garde artists aim to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable or mainstream, often seeking to shock or provoke the audience. Avant-garde works often challenge traditional notions of beauty, harmony, and meaning, and may feature unconventional techniques or materials. They also frequently explore complex themes, such as politics, identity, and social justice, and may be seen as a means of critiquing or subverting established power structures. “Rhinoceros” is often considered an avant-garde play because of its experimental and unconventional approach to storytelling and its subversion of traditional theatrical conventions. The play is characterized by its absurdity, surrealism, and black humor, as well as its use of allegory and symbolism to explore complex themes and ideas.
Besides, Rhinoceros is also regarded as a part of the Thetre of the Absurd. The Theatre of the Absurd is a movement in drama that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. It is characterized by its rejection of traditional narrative structures, dialogue, and character development, and instead focuses on the human condition in a meaningless and irrational world. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” and Jean Genet’s “The Maids” are some of the most well-known examples of works associated with this movement. The Theatre of the Absurd is often seen as a response to the horrors of World War II and the resulting sense of existential crisis, as well as a rejection of traditional forms of theatre and storytelling. British professor Martin Esslin coined the phrase “Theatre of the Absurd.”
Ionesco’s Rhinoceros (1959) is often regarded as his most social and political play. Rhinoceros is indeed a powerful representation of existentialism, showcasing the struggle of the individual against societal pressures and the loss of personal identity in the face of conformity. Ionesco’s use of language and cultural symbolism, such as the transformation of people into rhinoceroses, highlights how these societal pressures can erode individuality and lead to a loss of humanity. Overall, the play serves as a warning against the dangers of blind conformity and the importance of staying true to one’s authentic self, even in the face of adversity. In absurdist works like Rhinoceros, the audience is often left with a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, as the play does not provide a clear resolution or moral message. Instead, the play presents a surreal and fragmented world that challenges the audience’s preconceived notions of reality and human behavior. The characters in Rhinoceros struggle to maintain their individuality and resist the conformity of the group, but ultimately fail in their efforts. This sense of hopelessness and confusion is a hallmark of the Theatre of the Absurd and serves to reflect the existential anxiety and disorientation of the post-World War II era.
The play challenges traditional notions of rationality, logic, and language, suggesting that they are not always reliable or adequate tools for understanding the world. Instead, the play suggests that the human experience is inherently complex and unpredictable, and that attempts to impose order or meaning on it are often futile. This is a key aspect of the Theatre of the Absurd, which seeks to challenge conventional ideas about drama and storytelling by exploring the absurdity and uncertainty of human existence. In Rhinoceros, the characters’ repeated use of the phrase “Oh, a rhinoceros!” highlights their inability to fully comprehend or respond to the strange and alarming events happening around them. The characters’ focus on trivial details like the rhino’s origin instead of the larger issue of their fellow citizens turning into rhinoceroses emphasizes their detachment from reality and their inability to confront the absurdity of their situation. This type of dialogue adds to the overall feeling of confusion and disorientation that is central to the absurdist style.
The play emphasizes the futility of trying to impose logic or rationality on a world that is essentially irrational and meaningless. Even the most intelligent or logical characters, like Jean and the Logician, are not immune to the irrationality of the world they inhabit. And in the end, Berenger, the last human who still resists becoming a rhinoceros, is left with the realization that language and rationality are insufficient to make sense of the absurdity of existence. This is another characteristic of absurdism employed by Ionesco that is the irrationality of the characters.
The play’s lack of a traditional plot structure, with no clear rising action, climax, or resolution, is a hallmark of absurdist theatre. Instead, the play meanders through a series of increasingly bizarre events that ultimately leave the characters in a state of confusion and uncertainty. Additionally, the characters themselves show little to no development or growth over the course of the play, further emphasizing the circular and repetitive nature of their existence.