The play “The Chairs” by Eugene Ionesco was written and performed for the first time in 1952 in the Parisian theater Lancry and soon after it was performed it was named as one of the leading works of the avant-garde.
As for the style and theme of the play, they follow the ideas from the author’s play “The Bold Soprano” that were further elaborated in his first plays.
The plot is easy and a bit banal while the denouement seems meaningless and absurd but when we study the book closer we see the variety of messages and morals hidden in it.
The author is preoccupied with loneliness, alienation and he feels as if communication is meaningless. His characters are alienated from life, people, God, and the authorities. They live far away from everyone and their real life actually doesn’t exist and is meaningless.
The end seems to be the most absurd. They jump off of a tower and they couldn’t even be saved by the message of salvation of the humankind that was given to a voiceless Speaker.
Place: deserted island
The main characters of the play are Old Woman and Old Man. Instead of names they have nicknames and we will get to know them further through descriptions. They live away from the rest of the world in a tower on a deserted island. Old Man has about 95 and Old Woman about 94 years. Their conversations are meaningless, monotonous but they give us an insight into their life by letting us know they’ve been through a lot.
Their life was filled with disappointments and failures and they missed out on many opportunities so they never had the chance to reach the success they were longing for. Now, on the mere end of their lives, they regret everything.
All of the sudden a change occurs in their lives. Old Man decides it’s time to invite certain people to the island and let them know some information that could change the human kind.
While they are setting the chairs they hear a boat coming. The guests are invisible and only Old Man and Woman can see them. They act as if all of the guests were real and visible to everyone. They even talk to them and show them their seats and serve food and drinks for them. The couple is unaware of the fact that they are serving air and that the whole gathering was taking place only in their head. As the guests leave they place the chairs onto the stage.
Belle and her husband, Lady, Colonel and many others arrive but the scene is still empty. There are no people but the chairs keep on piling up and no one is sitting on them.
The couple keeps on placing chairs to the scene until it’s fully covered with them.
Soon there was a crowd of invisible people and the couple got lost in the mass. They were on separate parts of the scene and they yelled looking for each other. In the end, they start talking with the guests about different subjects. Then the imaginary emperor arrives. Old Man persistently wants to see the emperor but he can’t because of the invisible crowd.
Old Man and Old Woman then shout out “Long live the Emperor” and then they jump into the sea and die.
Orator comes to the stage and stands still. He is dressed to look unreal in comparison to the invisible guests.
He has his duty which is to let the invisible guests know the information on how to save the human kind. With his duty, the necessity of the old couple existence no longer exists.
The invisible scene waits for Orator to talk but when he finally wants to pronounce something he realizes he is voiceless. The author emphasized, even more, the absurdity by the Orator.
Orator wrote some words on the board that made no sense and then he turned to the audience. When he realized no one understood his message he decided to leave the stage in a fury.
The audience sits quietly, the chairs are on the scene, the window is open and the couple is dead. Orator went away and emptiness is all around. Everything is quiet.
All of the sudden some voices are heard but there is no one. The author wanted to make an impression on the audience and carve the last moment into their memory. The curtain closes.
Characters: Old Man, Old Woman, Orator
Old Man – the main character who is nameless and only has his nickname. He is 95 years old and lived alienated from the world with his wife on a deserted island. He accomplished nothing in his life and that’s the reason for his disappointment. He lives a meaningless life. He strived for success which he never reached. One day his life changes when he decides to entertain invisible guests with the goal of telling them his thoughts through Orator.
Old Woman – 94 years old nameless woman that lives a meaningless life with her husband Old Man on a deserted island. She sometimes seems as Old Man’s servant and sometimes as his mother. He helps her husband put out the chairs. Sometimes she would even get more enthusiastic than him.
Orator – next to the couple, he was the only real character of the play amongst the invisible crowd. He is somewhere between 45 and 50 years and his role was to present the information of human’s salvation to the invisible guests but in the end, he turns out to be voiceless.
Eugene Ionesco Biography
Eugene Ionesco was born on November 26th, 1909 in Romania. In 1911 he moved to France where he stayed until 1922 when he goes back to Romania again. Since he spent most of his young years in France, he forgot the Romanian language so he started studying it again in order to study in Bucharest.
In 1928, after finishing high school, he studied French literature and he got his diploma in 1933. He got married in 1936 and he got a daughter. Because of her, he wrote many children’s stories.
In 1938 he moved back to France where he spent a lot of time but he got his citizenship in 1950.
He wrote mostly in French but he was awarded as a Romanian writer.
He entered the literature with a book of poems “Elegies for Little Beings”. He started writing plays fortuitously and his play “The Bold Soprano” made him one of the lead names in the avant-garde.
His other works are: “The Lessons”, “Victims of Duty”, “Rhinoceros”, “The King Exists”.
He died when he was 84, on March 28th, 1994 in Paris where he was also buried.