Study Guide

Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros Summary

Berenger lives his life the way he wants. He’s late, he’s disheveled, and he’s a bit of a drinker. Think of someone who hates the 9-to-5 thing, so he invents a start-up instead. Luckily (or unluckily), his friend Jean is there to try to clean him up. The two chat at a café about a lot of things, but mainly Jean tries to bully Berenger into getting his act together.

Don’t worry, things get crazy pretty quickly mid-cafe therapy session. Berenger is just taking sip when, out of the blue, a rhinoceros storms through the neighborhood, creating panic and pandemonium. Pretty much what you'd expect when a rhinoceros storms through a quiet little French neighborhood.

As the play progresses, everyone Berenger knows transforms into a rhinoceros, and it seems like they’re making a conscious decision to let it happen rather than involuntarily getting stuck with the rhinovirus (get it?). For instance, Jean gets all fired up about wanting to live a “natural” life, and pretty soon he has a horn sprouting from his forehead.

In the end, Berenger and Daisy, his coworker and lady friend, are on their own. It looks like these two lovebirds might just be able to stick it out, but their relationship pretty much crumbles in the span of about seven minutes. Daisy starts getting gray and leathery and tears off to join the others, and Berenger is left as the last man standing.

So there he is, railing against the rhinoceroses and proclaiming, “I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way!” Think I am Legend but with way less carnage and more philosophical French dudes.

  • Act 1

    • If books, movies, and TV have taught us anything, it’s that the French love a nice café. And true to form, that’s where our play begins.
    • Our hero Berenger—who’s somewhat lazy and disorganized but a decent fellow overall—meets his more-together friend Jean for a chat while others in this small provincial town (cue Belle from Beauty and the Beast) go about their business.
    • There’s the shop owner and his wife, the resident Logician (every town should have a logician), a lady with her cat, and an old guy. Cute.
    • So, Jean talks to Berenger about how Berenger needs to quit drinking and get his life together.
    • People just love it when other people tell them everything that’s wrong with them, don’t they?
    • Berenger might come off as one of those guys who's OK with his lot in life, somewhat sloppy though that lot may be.
    • But we catch a glimpse of his own self-doubt when Daisy crosses the stage. Daisy is the girl from work whom Berenger has a total crush on. She’s the Pam to his Jim. Or the Dawn to his Tim, if you’re a British type.
    • As Daisy walks by, Berenger sort of realizes that he looks like a messy drunk, so he tries to hide himself. Which of course gives Jean the chance to lecture him some more.
    • Just when you think this is going to be one of those plays where people just sit around and talk about life and stuff, things get a little nuts.
    • A rhinoceros barrels through the neighborhood. Everyone (other than Berenger) freaks out. He’s laid back like that…or hungover, it’s debatable.
    • So the rhino has moved on and Berenger is already tired of talking about it when…
    • Boom! Another rhinoceros bursts on the scene. This time, sadly, a lady’s cat gets squashed in the bargain. Non-LOL.
    • The second rhinoceros (or is it just the first one come back around?) sparks more debate between Berenger and Jean, and they end up getting pretty heated.
    • How could you not, after a double rhino rampage?
    • Anyway, it’s just about as heated as a leisurely French guy like Berenger can get at this point, so Jean storms off.
    • Despite the argument and all that rhinoceros madness, Berenger still walks away from the meeting determined to change his life like Jean laid it out for him.
    • First steps: 1) go check out a play—maybe one by Ionesco (yeah, Ionesco is so cool, he can reference himself in his own play), 2) start dressing sharp, and 3) kick the drink. Then maybe even he will start noticing all the rhinos stampeding over rural France.
  • Act 2, Scene 1

    • You would think that a possible rhinoceros rampage could get you out of having to go to work.
    • Not in France, buddy.
    • Berenger stumbles into his job. He’s late, but Daisy swings it so it looks like he’s on time on the sign-in sheet.
    • She takes care of him that way. Nice girl, huh? No wonder he’s got a crush.
    • Berenger’s co-workers are debating whether or not the rhinoceroses actually showed up.
    • Daisy argues that she saw the rhinos with her own eyes, and Dudard says it’s in the papers, so it has to be true.
    • Then there’s good old Botard. He’s like the resident conspiracy theorist. He likes to blame the “Man” and all that. He’d be best buds with Eddie Snowden if it were a few decades in the future.
    • Basically, he’s unwilling to accept that there were actual rhinoceroses at all.
    • After some debating about identity, intellectualism, and imagination (oh, the French), the boss Mr. Papillon tells everybody to get to work.
    • Enter a freaked-out Mrs. Boeuf (yeah, that’s “beef” in English).
    • Her husband, Mr. Boeuf, didn’t show up for work and Papillon wants to know why.
    • Mrs. Boeuf says something about illness, but she’s more concerned by the fact that she was chased the entire way to the office by a rhinoceros.
    • And not only that—said rhinoceros is downstairs right now!
    • Even Botard starts coming around on the whole rhino thing when the beast rips apart the stairwell leading to the office. Hard to doubt it when it cuts off your escape route.
    • Soon, Mrs. Boeuf realizes that the rhinoceros is her dear husband. Touching, right?
    • Papillon and others feel like changing into a rhinoceros is legitimate grounds for divorce, but Mrs. Boeuf won’t hear it.
    • She goes full-on action star and leaps out the window, landing on rhino-Boeuf and riding off on his back.
    • Um, what?
    • From here, it’s clear that more rhinoceroses are showing up. And the zinger? They seem to be former people.
    • So, time for a vacay? Think again.
    • Papillon decides that work must stop in the office (they’re missing the stairs, after all), but he refuses to treat this as any sort of break.
    • He wants Daisy to come by his apartment to work, and he tells Berenger not to shirk his duties. In fairness, the workers don’t seem too concerned with their jobs at this point.
    • Daisy calls the first brigade to help them get down from the stairless office, and eventually they all descend to the ground below.
  • Act 2, Scene 2

    • Berenger feels bad about how things ended with Jean at the café, so he goes to visit his friend. What a good bud, right?
    • But it’s pretty clear from the moment Berenger walks in that all is not well.
    • Jean is sick in bed with a headache.
    • And something is wrong with his voice: it’s weirdly hoarse, almost unrecognizable to Berenger.
    • You know how when a werewolf bites someone and the “change” starts, but it takes awhile for the victim to fully wolf out? That's kind of how this scene feels. But instead, it’s Jean starting to rhino out.
    • At first, like normal human buddies, the two argue and debate.
    • But Berenger can’t get over how Jean looks. His skin is turning green and tough. Quite the cold, right?
    • Berenger wants to call the doctor for his friend, but Jean refuses. Jean feels more alive than he ever has! If only his pajamas weren’t so itchy!
    • Everyone reading or watching knows what’s happening, but Berenger can’t accept it.
    • Soon, Jean is replacing words with “Brrr” and he’s storming around the apartment like some kind of animal (specifically, like a rhinoceros).
    • If this were a horror movie, this would be the point where everyone watching yells “Get out of the house!” to the kid who decides, for some insane reason, to walk up the stairs to investigate the weird noise that was clearly made by the killer/ghost/monster/evil possessed doll.
    • Not surprisingly, the scene ends with Jean rushing out of the apartment to join the mass of rhinoceroses that have gathered outside.
    • He’s one of them now. Surprise!
    • Berenger blames himself and starts to worry that he won’t be able to fight this crazy rhino disease that seems to be going around.
  • Act 3

    • Hypochondriacs of the world unite! The start of this act is for those of us who manage to convince ourselves that we’re “coming down” with the thing everybody else has.
    • Berenger lies in bed, convinced he has a fever and a headache and a hoarse voice and is possibly green—basically all the symptoms Jean displayed before transforming into a rhinoceros.
    • Dudard, Berenger’s coworker, shows up to check on him. Dudard fills Berenger in on all the people who have made the change from human to rhino.
    • Botard—the conspiracy theorist dude who was supposedly so anti-system—has joined with all the other rhinos, as has their boss Mr. Papillon.
    • This new wave of rhinocerization (that’s a word, right?) sparks debate between the coworkers.
    • Dudard seems to believe that everyone who has changed made the decision to do so, but Berenger is not about to accept that.
    • So he decides to seek out the help of the Logician (remember that guy from the first scene?).
    • But guess what? Yep, you know it, the Logician has transformed into a rhinoceros like all the others. Though he has managed to keep wearing his boater hat. If that ain’t logic, we don’t know what is.
    • As the debate grows, Daisy shows up.
    • Until this moment, the state of Daisy and Berenger’s relationship has been a little unclear, but now we know that the two love each other. Or at least they think they do. Love is complicated, you know? Ah, a topic for another time.
    • Daisy reports that more and more rhinoceroses have taken to the streets. What do they need fancy French cafes for, anyway?
    • It’s becoming clear that the three people in the apartment are some of the last—if not the last—people left.
    • As they watch the rhinos on the street below, Dudard grows increasingly attached to them. Don’t they look happy? And healthy? Hmm, maybe they’re the ones who made the right decision…
    • If you haven’t guessed what’s going to happen now, you may want to start over with our first “horny” joke.
    • Soon Dudard has rushed out of the apartment and transformed, yes, into a horny rhino. Berenger and Daisy can’t even recognize the dude-ard among all the other rhinos! But no hat for him, boater or otherwise.
    • Berenger’s got a theory: he says Dudard was in love with Daisy and realizing he couldn’t have her made him join up with the animals. Aw, human problems.
    • So things are not looking good, y’all. Some might say they’re looking downright hopeless. The rhinos are now in the building. Repeat: the rhinos are in the building! There’s no way to stop them, right?
    • You forget, though, that love is a powerful thing.
    • Berenger and Daisy convince themselves that as long as they love each other, things will be okay. They can fight this crazy rhino epidemic. Think it’s gonna work?
    • Here’s something to think about: unless you are watching a romantic comedy, love does not conquer all.
    • Within minutes, Berenger and Daisy’s relationship starts to fall apart.
    • Daisy starts thinking the rhinoceroses are kinda cute and starts to take their side.
    • Uh-oh, you know what that means.
    • Daisy leaves Berenger behind to join the others.
    • Berenger knows he is the only man left. He yells and screams. He will not give in. He will never give in!
    • CURTAIN (aka, The End)