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The Chairs

The Chairs


by Eugene Ionesco

The Chairs Summary

How It All Goes Down

The play begins with an Old Man and an Old Woman chilling in their house, which is apparently completely surrounded by stagnant water. We're not exactly sure why their house is in the middle of an ocean, but we get the idea that just maybe the whole world has come to an end. We learn that the Old Man has been working his entire life on a message to all of humanity. It's never clear what exactly this message is, but apparently it contains the meaning of life.

The old couple is excited, because tonight pretty much everyone in the entire world is coming over to hear the Old Man's message. However, the Old Man doesn't feel capable of delivering the message himself, so he's hired a professional Orator to tell it to the crowd.

Guests begin to arrive. The weird thing is that they're all invisible; only the Old Man and Woman can see them. This whole invisible-guest thing makes us wonder if the old couple is just imagining all of this. Are they just playing make-believe to pass the time? Does the Old Man really have a message?

Whether the invisible guests are real or not is unclear, but Old Man and Woman seem totally convinced. They scurry about the house, greeting their guests and dragging in chairs to accommodate the crowd. This section of the play peaks when the Emperor arrives (he is, of course, also invisible). The Old Man and Woman couldn't be more honored and push their way through the invisible crowd to greet their most exalted guest.

At long last, the Orator shows up. Believe it or not, he is actually visible, meaning he's played by a real actor just like the Old Man and his wife. The Old Man is bursting with pride. He's so happy that his message will finally be heard and feels that his life's work is now complete. The only logical thing to do now is to kill himself. His wife agrees. The Old Man tells the Orator that it's now in his hands to deliver the all-important message. With that, the old couple throw themselves out the windows and splash into the waters below.

The Orator stands in front of the rows of chairs, which may or may not contain an invisible crowd. He opens his mouth to try and deliver the message, but it swiftly becomes clear that he is a deaf-mute. The Orator makes unintelligible noises that apparently can't be understood. Frustrated, he writes on a blackboard, but that too comes out to basically be gibberish. Eventually, the Orator gives up and exits without the message having been communicated. When he leaves, the sound of a crowd is heard. It steadily gets louder and then fades away. The curtain slowly descends.

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