How are the characters of Alceste and Nora in The Misanthrope and A Doll's House similar, yet different?
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The similarities between these two characters lie in their attitude to honesty and their rejection of simulation and pretence. Both characters in these dramatic works refuse to take the easy option of pretending to feel emotions that they do not actually feel in order to please others or to fit in to society. For example, the opening scene of Moliere's comedy begins with Alceste berating his friend Philinte because he has just pretended to know and care for somebody much more than he actually does. Alceste's position is stated in the following quote:
I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don't really mean.
Alceste's position then right from the start of this play puts him in conflict with those around him and with society at large. He does not fit in because he is not willing to yield on his beliefs about honesty. This is something that separates him from Nora, because Nora only comes to recognise the value of honesty through the course of A Doll's House. The opening scene makes clear that she is able to pretend to feel emotions that she does not actually feel, and it is only in Act III that she realises she has to be honest with herself and also with Helmer. Note what she says to him:
Torvald, that was the moment that I realised that for eight years I'd been living with a stranger, and had borne him three children... Oh, I can't bear to think about it! I could tear myself to shreds.
It is this act of honesty that results in her leaving her husband and her children and taking the defiant and brave step of setting up her own life independently, which, given the context of her time, was a massive risk to take. The differences between these two characters therefore lie in the way that Alceste remains a static character, hating dishonesty throughout the entire play, whereas Nora is a dynamic character, who comes to realise the need for honesty in her life during the course of the play.
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