Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Welsh, Wil||Carlson, Harry S.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of English


Ionesco; Eugène


The international acceptance accorded the playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd is one of the most annexing phenomenon of recent theatre history. These authors feel that the cardinal function of contemporary drama is to evolve means of expressing the irrational nature of man's existence. Perhaps the most revolutionary means for communicating this irrationality have been created by Eugene Ionesco. His plays confront audiences accustomed to the conventional structure of realistic drama with a bizarre world that is both terrifying and amusing. The purpose of this study was to examine the form of Ionesco's plays in order to better understand his method of blending comedy and tragedy. His three-act plays were chosen for analysis since this form generally represents the ultimate test of a playwright's powers of sustained expression. The method of study involved a comparison of aspects of comedy and tragedy as they are manifested in The Killer and Rhinoceros. The aspects were: province of form,plot development, character, and final effect. Province of Form. Social and serious problems are present throughout both plays. In The Killer, Ionesco explores the serious problem of the inevitability of death and contrasts this with the social problems of mass indifference, automatic language, and mass conformism to political ideologies. The Rhinoceros deals with the social problem that is created by inhuman political ideologies, and with the secondary serious problem concerning the alienation of the individual who opposed such an ideology. This interweaving of the serious and social matters results in a reciprocal intensification. Plot Development: The plots of both plays are built around a central symbol that la intended to capture and hold audience attention. The killer symbolizes the inevitability of death, while man's metamorphosis into a rhinoceros symbolizes the stupid, bestial form political ideologists may assume. In Rhinoceros, Ionesco resorts to a device he used in hit one-act works: the introduction of an irrational element into a familiar situation, which is than intensified by the creation of a series of comic contrivances. The symbol of death in The Killer is introduced in a dream-like scene, and is developed through the dramatic representation of the states of consciousness of the protagonist. Both plots demand that ethical decisions be made by the protagonists, and those decisions introduce the serious themes of the plays. Character: The protagonists of the plays (both names Berenger) are pathetic insignificant individuals who make decisions and thereby gain stature. The Berenger of The Killer acquires an awareness of the hopeless dilemma that faces man, and therefore, might be viewed as a modern tragic hero. In Rhinoceros, Berenger is isolated by his decision to remain human. But the problems he faces are not insurmountable, and consequently, he does not achieve tragic stature. The secondary characters in both plays are burlesqued social types: those in The Killer are products of Berenger's states of consciousness and therefore, have no identity or unity; those in Rhinoceros are more individualized since they are drawn in a more conventional manner, and we are allowed to view the gradual exposure of their comic abnormalities. The primary emotions aroused by Rhinoceros are laughter and ridicule, because Ionesco's focus here is upon satirizing social matters. The comic abnormalities of the secondary characters overshadow the pity we feel for Berenger's final alienation. The horrible revelation of Berenger in the last scene of The Killer arouses the tragic emotions of fear and pity, but the knowledge that man's condition is irrational forces a shocked laughter that is the only answer man can give to this absurdity, thus, we find the possibility of laughter being a form of catharsis for pity and fear.


Includes bibliographical references.


viii, 80 pages




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