by Eugene Ionesco
The Chairs Theme of Language and Communication
Some think The Chairs presents a cynical view of language and communication. The language of the play is quite garbled the entire way through. The characters mostly speak in random clichés and non-sequiturs and spout half-forgotten memories in broken sentences. At the end of the play, the great Orator is supposed to reveal the meaning of life but instead only mumbles unintelligibly. Ionesco was attacked in the London Observer by the critic Kenneth Tynan for not believing in the possibility of communication through language. We can see why Tynan would say this after reading The Chairs, but Ionesco thought the criticism was silly. As a playwright, of course he thought language could communicate meaning. Why else would he, you know, write? Ionesco saw the unconventional use of language in his play as a way of reawakening "a dead form of communication" (source).
Questions About Language and Communication
- What is the purpose of the seemingly purposeless language in the play?
- When, if ever, do the characters in the play truly communicate?
- What is the play saying about communication when the Orator delivers the message in gibberish?
Chew on This
The play presents the pessimistic view that language is incapable of truly expressing human experience.
The play reawakens the power of language by reimagining the way it can be used.