Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
The play ends with the following stage direction:
[Mr. and Mrs. Martin are seated like the Smiths at the beginning of the play. The play begins again with the Martins, who say exactly the same lines as the Smiths in the first scene, while the curtain softly falls.] (564)
This weird and wonderful ending touches on many of the play's major themes. For one, it's the final twist in a play in which we've seen one "version of reality" after another. Ionesco has spent the whole play peeling back layer upon layer of reality. Just before this final moment, the characters were screaming nonsense in the dark. Any sense of "realism" has been destroyed. Now, at the end of the play, Ionesco sends his audience home with the idea that all of the characters aren't who they think they are. Are the Smiths the Martins? Are the Martins the Smiths? Does it matter?
The ending also touches on the themes of "Time" and "Memory and the Past." It makes us wonder if the characters are somehow trapped in an endless loop. Are they doomed to repeat the play over and over again for all time? Do the Smiths and the Martins just flip flop roles for all eternity? Throughout the play, there is much confusion over the past. Characters constantly forget things they really ought to remember. Mr. and Mrs. Martin, for example, don't remember each other at all. It's really no wonder that the characters have trouble remembering the past, when, apparently, the past doesn't even exist.
The ending is one of the many elements of the play which makes it fit snuggly into the genre of the Theatre of the Absurd. You see this kind of thing all the time in Absurdist plays. Quite often after watching one of these bizarre theatrical romps you get the idea that the characters are trapped in an endlessly repeating cycle. This reflects the Absurdist idea that we fill our days with repetitive actions that are ultimately meaningless.
Before we peace out on this entry, we ought to mention that the play didn't end quite like this when it was first performed. When The Bald Soprano first graced the stage, it was the Smiths who started the play again. Ionesco didn't have the idea to switch out the Smiths for the Martins until the play's 100th performance. We're glad he did. Otherwise, we would have never known one of dramatic literature's most bizarre and brain-busting endings.