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The Chairs

The Chairs

  

by Eugene Ionesco

The Chairs The Chairs Summary

  • Stage directions tell us that the Old Man is sitting on a stool, peering out a window.
  • The Old Woman lights a gas lamp.
  • She tugs on her husband's sleeve.
  • The Old Woman tells him to shut the window; it's letting in mosquitoes and the smell of stagnant water.
  • He tells her to leave him alone.
  • She's concerned that he might fall out the window into the water outside; she doesn't want him to die like Francois I.
  • The Old Man says he's tired of her references to French history.
  • He wants to see the boats in the sunlight.
  • The Old Woman reminds him that it's dark outside.
  • Well, he says, I want to look at their shadows, then.
  • She pleads with him to come away from the window.
  • Reluctantly, he does as she asks, but reminds her of how much he likes to look at the water.
  • The Old Woman can't understand why; the stench of it makes her feel lightheaded.
  • The Old Man sits in the Woman's lap.
  • He recollects that it used to get dark much later than it does now.
  • The Old Woman agrees and compliments him on his fine memory.
  • He says it's dark because the earth keeps spinning round and round, sinking deeper and deeper.
  • She compliments him on his intellect and tells him he could have been a general.
  • The Old Man replies that he is a general, a "general factotum" (17) – an employee who does a little of everything.
  • The Old Man complains that he's bored.
  • The Old Woman suggests that they play make-believe.
  • They argue over whose turn it is to make believe.
  • The Old Man tells her to drink her tea, but there in none.
  • He calls her by the name of Semiramis.
  • (Semiramis was a legendary Assyrian queen, with a reputation for being sleazy.)
  • She asks him to imitate the month of February.
  • He replies that he doesn't like the months of the year.
  • Too bad, she says, they're the only months we have for now.
  • The Old Man does an impression of February, which for some unknown reason involves scratching his head like Stan Laurel (of the famous comic duo Laurel and Hardy).
  • She's very impressed and says he could have been head general.
  • He reminds her again that he's a general factotum.
  • The Old Woman begs him to tell a story that begins, "Then at last we arrived…" (40)
  • He complains that he's been telling the story every night of their 75-year marriage.
  • She begs him some more, saying that it's her story too.
  • Reluctantly, the grumpy Old Man agrees.
  • He recalls that they were very cold when they first arrived.
  • They went through a garden and on the other side was a village.
  • The Old Woman asks the name of the village.
  • He says it was Paris; it was a city of light, but now there's nothing left of it.
  • The Woman says that her husband could've really been something but now all hope is washed down the drain.
  • She begins to laugh in a demented way.
  • The Old Man laughs too and continues his story.
  • It's pretty garbled because he's laughing so hard, but it has something to do with an idiot arriving with rice stuck to his belly. (Yeah, pretty weird.)
  • Apparently, whatever incident the two are recalling is hilarious, because their laughing gets even crazier.
  • The Old Woman exclaims that Paris was wonderful.
  • She says again that he could've really done something and suggests that perhaps he's wasted his life.
  • The Old Man replies that they should be happy with what they have.
  • He breaks into tears, calling for his mother.
  • The Old Man whines that he's, "an orphan...dworfan" (75).
  • He wonders where his mother is.
  • His wife tells him she's in Heaven.
  • The Old Man cries.
  • The Old Woman tries to comfort him.
  • She reminds him that he has a message to deliver, something he's always wanted to say.
  • The Old Man bucks up.
  • He wipes his tears and declares that he is special because he has a message for all of humanity.
  • His wife tells him that he would've gotten farther in life if he'd learned to get along better with people.
  • They sit for a while in silence.
  • Suddenly the Old Man begins to talk again about the lost city of Paris.
  • He tries to remember more but keeps getting befuddled.
  • The Old Man complains that he has trouble expressing himself.
  • She says it's his duty to get his message to humanity.
  • She's proud of him because he's finally going to speak to the heads of the entire world.
  • He corrects her, saying that he's hired a professional orator to speak for him.
  • The Old Woman gets excited.
  • She can't believe that tonight is the night.
  • It seems the Old Man has invited every kind of person in the entire world to hear the Orator speak his message.
  • The guests should be arriving any minute.
  • The Old Woman worries that the whole thing might make them too tired.
  • Too late, though...
  • They hear the sound of a boat outside – the first guests are arriving.
  • The Old Woman wonders if it's the Orator.
  • Her husband says the Orator won't arrive till later.
  • The doorbell rings.
  • The Old Woman frets over her hair and clothes.
  • The old couple hobbles off stage.
  • We hear them greeting a guest.
  • The Old Woman compliments the guest on her clothes.
  • The couple comes back on stage with the guest walking in-between them.
  • The guest is invisible (to us at least).
  • The Old Man brings a chair onstage for the invisible Lady.
  • The couple makes small talk with her.
  • They appear to be very amused with whatever the Lady is saying.
  • The invisible Lady drops an invisible object, which the Old Man insists on picking up for her.
  • We live a pretty good life, the couple tells their guest.
  • Fishing occupies a lot of the Old Man's time, but he spends at least two hours a day working on his message.
  • The doorbell rings again.
  • A new invisible guest enters.
  • It's a Colonel.
  • The Old Man is honored to meet him and is flattered he's taken the time to come.
  • The Old Woman compliments the Colonel's uniform.
  • She blushes as the invisible Colonel kisses her hand.
  • They get the Colonel a chair and introduce him to the Lady.
  • The doorbell rings.
  • The Old Man greets an invisible couple.
  • Apparently he knows the woman from the past; they used to call her Belle.
  • They come to the conclusion that her nose has gotten longer.
  • The Old Man tells Belle's husband that she will always be Belle to him even though she's old now.
  • The Old Man introduces the new guests to the Colonel and the Lady.
  • More chairs are brought on.
  • Belle's husband has brought the Old Woman a present. It's a painting.
  • The Old Woman thinks that Belle's husband is a doctor and tells him about her aches and pains.
  • The Old Man corrects his wife, saying that Belle's husband is a Photo-engraver, not a doctor.
  • The Old Woman begins to talk with the Photo-engraver while the Old Man talks to Belle.
  • It seems the Old Man once loved Belle long ago.
  • The Old Woman thanks the Photo-engraver, who is apparently hanging up the picture he brought.
  • Both the Old Man and the Old Woman begin to flirt with their conversation partners.
  • The Old Man speaks wistfully to Belle about times gone by.
  • The Old Woman raises her skirts and compliments the Photo-engraver on his clever fingers.
  • Eventually, the old couple asks Belle and the Photo-engraver to take seats with the other guests.
  • Stage directions tell us that a long mute scene follows. The old couple sits silently for a while and listens to the conversations of their invisible guests.
  • The Old Woman tells the Photo-engraver that she and the Old Man have only had one son.
  • The Old Man, however, tells someone else that they've never had a son at all.
  • Not acknowledging this, the Old Woman tells the Photo-engraver a story about her son.
  • Apparently, one day the streets were full of dead baby birds and her son yelled at her, thinking it was all her fault.
  • The Old Woman tried to deny that there were dead birds, and her son ran away.
  • The Old Man begins speaking of his mother, saying that he left her to die alone in a ditch.
  • These two stories seem to intertwine and become a bit garbled.
  • Eventually, the old couple stops their story telling and sit in silence for awhile.
  • More boats are heard.
  • The Old Man goes off to welcome the new guests.
  • The Old Woman arranges chairs.
  • The Old Man shows in the new guests, who are apparently newspapermen.
  • He introduces them to all the other invisible people and comments that the Orator should be arriving soon.
  • Tons of invisible guests begin to fill the room.
  • The couple scurries around trying to accommodate them all. They worry that there won't be enough chairs.
  • The sounds of doorbells, boats, and waves grow louder.
  • The old couple runs around like crazy trying to deal with the growing invisible crowd.
  • Eventually we get the impression that the room is totally crammed with people.
  • The Old Woman begins selling programs and candies.
  • Apparently, the room is so packed that she can't even move, so she just throws them all up in the air.
  • Pushed by the crowd, the old couple ends up at opposite windows.
  • They call to each other from across the mass of invisible people.
  • They each speak to random people near them.
  • The say that the Orator should be here by now.
  • They talk about how all the world's problems will be solved once the Old Man's message is heard.
  • Suddenly, the main doors open wide and bright light shines in.
  • The Old Man exclaims that the Emperor has arrived (of course, he is invisible too).
  • The couple celebrates joyously that the Emperor has honored them with his presence.
  • They push their way through the crowd to show their respects.
  • The Old Man tells the Emperor about all the failures and disappointments of his life.
  • He implores the Emperor to be patient; the Orator will be here any moment to deliver the message.
  • At long last the Orator arrives.
  • He is a real person. Well, he's played by real actor at least.
  • Stage directions tell us that he looks like a typical painter or poet from the nineteenth century.
  • The Old Woman seems a little unconvinced that he's real, but after touching him she declares, "Here he is!" (488).
  • The Old Man and Old Woman are both so happy that this hasn't all been a dream.
  • The Orator bows to the crowd and salutes the invisible Emperor.
  • The Orator signs tons of autographs for the eager, invisible crowd.
  • Proudly, the Old Man thanks the crowd, then extends his thanks to basically the entire human race.
  • He thanks the Emperor especially.
  • The Old Man tells the ruler that his and his wife's mission in life is now complete.
  • Now that the Old Man's message will finally be heard, his life will not have been for nothing.
  • He thanks everybody who helped him get to this glorious day and reminisces a bit about his life.
  • The Old Man declares that after years of toil in the name of humanity's greater good, he and his wife will now make the ultimate sacrifice.
  • The Old Woman agrees; it's better that they die now while in their full glory.
  • The couple laments that their bodies won't be able to rot together in the same grave. Instead, their corpses will drift apart in the waters that surround the house.
  • The Old Man turns to the Orator and tells him that he's placing all his faith in him; he's trusting the Orator to get his message across to the world.
  • With that, the Old Man and Woman throw themselves out separate windows, crying, "Long live the Emperor!" (537-540).
  • We hear splashes as their bodies hit the water.
  • The Orator is left alone onstage in dimming light.
  • He stares at the rows of chairs.
  • He tries to communicate to the crowd, but it becomes obvious that he is deaf and mute. His speech comes out as gibberish.
  • Frustrated, he turns to a blackboard behind him and writes, "ANGELFOOD," among other things (541).
  • He tries to explain himself to the crowd, but it becomes increasingly obvious that they have no idea what he's talking about.
  • Eventually, he gives up, bows politely to all, and leaves.
  • After he exits, we begin to hear the noise of a crowd; it gets louder and louder then fades into nothing.

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