THE NEW TENANT

An analysis and synopsis of "The New Tenant" by Eugene Ionesco
The following study guide was originally published on this website on October 20, 2006.

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The New Tenant is, as Martin Esslin calls it, “a spectacle of terrifying simplicity.” Written by Eugene Ionesco, it is a play about a man overwhelmed by objects—“stifled in a sea of inert matter.”

As the play opens, a gentleman arrives at his new apartment. He is greeted by the caretaker, a babbling, greedy woman who carries on as the gentleman begins measuring his new home and planning where the furniture will go when it arrives. She offers to help in this endeavor, and when he kindly turns her down, she takes offense and makes a scene, even going so far as to suggest that he has made improper advances to her. He pays her off, and after the 1st furniture mover arrives, she finally takes her leave, still gabbing. The 1st furniture mover is soon joined by his companion, the 2nd furniture mover, and together they begin carrying the gentleman's belongings into the apartment—pictures, vases, chairs, clocks, tables, wardrobes—placing each piece as the gentleman instructs them. Slowly, the apartment begins to fill. It becomes difficult to move around—then impossible. The gentleman is blocked in completely—obscured from view. The moving men can’t even exit the apartment to get more furniture as the doors are blocked, both from within and without.

GENTLEMAN: What is it that’s left?
1ST FURNITURE MOVER: Wardrobes.
GENTLEMAN: The green and purple ones?
2ND FURNITURE MOVER: Yes.
1ST FURNITURE MOVER: And that’s not all. There’s more to come.
2ND FURNITURE MOVER: The staircase is jammed from top to bottom. Nobody can get up or down.
GENTLEMAN: The yard is cram-full too. So is the street.
1ST FURNITURE MOVER: The traffic’s come to a standstill in the town. Full of furniture.

Even the Thames has stopped flowing, it appears—dammed up with furniture. The gentleman’s belonging have cluttered the whole city. As the movers attempt to find some escape route from the apartment, the gentleman, from his enclosure, asks them to put out the lights.

In this play, Ionesco has abandoned the concepts of character, conflict, and traditional plot-construction. Only the ramblings of the caretaker can possibly be construed as having any sort of traditional dramatic form. Instead, Ionesco attempts to create a concrete image onstage of the life of man—first empty, a clean slate, but inevitably cluttered by repetitive experiences and memories, hopelessly stifled, until life itself must come to a standstill as there is no possibility of going on.

The New Tenant premiered in Finland in 1955. It was presented at the Arts Theatre in London in November of the following year. After seeing a production of the play, Harold Hobson wrote in the London Times: "There is no dramatist living who can make furniture speak as eloquently as M. Ionesco; and here he makes it the perfect, the terrifying symbol, of a deranged mind."

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