Compare "The Misanthrope" and "A Doll's House" as plays dealing with characters in conflict with the norms of society, especially considering Nora and Alceste.
How are the characters of Alceste and Nora similar, yet different?
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Whilst The Misanthrope and A Doll’s House are largely concerned with maintaining appearances in order to meet the required customs of their time, Alceste and Nora refuse to simply fit-in because it is expected of them. Nora, in A Doll’s House, does appear to be the dutiful wife and, indeed, her intentions are noble and self-sacrificing as she will ultimately pay the price for acting outside the boundaries placed upon her by society. Alceste , the true misanthrope from The Misanthrope, cannot see the futility of his attempts to correct all of society’s hypocrisy, cannot see his own failings and acts out of a misguided belief that his style of “honesty” and lack of compassion will restore society to respectability.
Honor is a theme of both plays as Alceste believes that being "a man of honor" excuses any apparent lack of courtesy, even to influential people. He will not conform or pay lip-service to anyone, even in the interests of furthering his own ends. Nora has no concept of honor for honor's sake and would rather risk everything to protect her husband- save his life in fact- despite what society may demand. She is painfully aware that she is acting outside the boundaries but it is for the greater good which she rationalizes means that good will prevail and her indiscretion will be excused. Alceste and Nora then are similar in this respect as each believes that their form of sincerity will overcome all else.
It seems contradictory that Nora and Alceste should have similarities as described above as there are also stark differences between them. Nora spends much of her married life keeping a secret and maintaining her appearance as a fickle, "little spendthrift" amongst other descriptions her husband labels her with, discounting her opinion and worth outside the domestic life. Alceste would not condone Nora's deception - even though it saved her husband's life - as there can be no substitute for the truth to prevent "this stinking sink of evil." He would see that Torvald Helmer, Nora's husband had been "betrayed ... cheated." Alceste refuses to view life as "a... game.... (that) must be played"
Ultimately Alceste reveals his own insincerity, insisting that, to spite Celimene, Eliante must marry him. This actually makes him more like Torvald whose own understanding of the "norms" dictates that others must bow to his version of the truth.
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