The human race has advanced over many years, and during this time, moral standards have developed. These moral standards, distinctively different from the laws of nature, are standards set specifically for humans. The play Rhinoceros, written by playwright Eugene Ionesco, associates this difference in moral standards and laws of nature. Ionesco uses Jean, a French businessman, to display the differences between these two ways of life. In Act I, Jean believes in the values of the society, moral standards, but as he changes into a beastly rhinoceros in Act II, his beliefs begin to change; the dramatic transformation of Jean displays the difference in the laws of man and the laws of beast.
The laws of man contain society values such as manners and friendship. In Act I, Jean abides these values absolutely, and this is reflected in his personality and physical qualities such as his way of dress. Jean enters the first scene, “fastidiously dressed in a brown suit, red tie, stiff collar and a brown hat…his shoes are yellow and well polished. He wears gloves and carries a cane” (6).
Jean, in this case, is a typical example of today’s society and how people care too much about his/her appearance. Appearance determines class, and Jean follows these society values to show that he has class. In addition to this, he attempts to show that he has class and is manly by persistently explaining that “[he is] strong,” and “[he is] strong for several reasons. In the first place [he is] strong because [he is] naturally strong – and secondly…because [he has] moral strength” (23).
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Once more Jean displays a belief in moral standards, the belief that strength is an attribute that determines the difference between a deserving or undeserving person. These beliefs, on the other hand, are incredibly different from those of nature.
In the world of Mother Nature’s, animals do not follow moral standards, but believe in the survival of the fittest. Amazingly, Jean begins to completely alter his beliefs as he changes into a rhinoceros. In Act I, Jean enjoyed his success in society and his position to criticize and label others less stable than he. I n Act II, however, Jean shows animal-like characteristics more than this. As the second act begins, the audience notices that Jean is still in bed, untidy, instead of at the office where he should be. This immediately shows that Jean is not the same man who used to believe that “the superior man is the man who fulfills his duty” (9).
In addition, Jean contradicts his belief that being strong is a positive aspect in today’s society; in the first act, Jean does everything within his power to display his strength. Ironically in Act II, Jean says, “I don’t feel well,” admitting that he’s weak without shame (75).
Then he continues with how much he doesn’t feel well, and that “there’s something wrong somewhere” (76).
Jean’s change in attitude is due to the change in being, from a human to a rhinoceros. As an animal, Jean is completely disinterested in his physical characteristics such as dress and strength, similar to animals that are most concerned with survival in the wild.
The dramatic change in Jean from a human to a beast shows the differences between the beliefs of man and beast, and what ideals are necessary for each being. As Jean transforms from a human to a rhinoceros, this characteristics become obvious through his actions and attitude. The difference between man and beast is a simple one: a man agonizes over society values whereas a beast’s only concern is survival.