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Which person is portrayed by the playwright with greater sympathy, Nora in A Doll's...

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lovestinks | Salutatorian

Posted April 19, 2013 at 2:57 AM via web

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Which person is portrayed by the playwright with greater sympathy, Nora in A Doll's House or Alceste in The Misanthrope?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:46 AM (Answer #1)

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It is very clear that in spite of the similarities between these two characters, the portrayal of Nora is definitely more sympathetic than that of Alceste. This is because Alceste is presented as something of a figure of fun. Although he has a serious point behind his hatred of simulation and dishonesty, the unyielding way in which he presents his views, resisting the voice of the more pragmatic Philinte, shows him as an exaggerated type, who has gone too far the other way in his rejection of "all-embracing, undiscriminating affection which makes no distinction of merit." Note what he says in his conversation with Philinte where he expresses his views:

I meet with nothing but base flattery, injustice, selfishness, treachery, villainy everywhere. I can't stand it any more. It infuriates me. I mean to fling my gauntlet in the face of the whole human race!

The last phrase in particular is one that would attract laughter from the audience, as it is so melodramatic and exaggerated. Alceste is shown to embrace honesty too much, even at the expense of offending those around him.

Nora, by contrast, only gains her honesty through a much more tortuous and painful process. When she has her epiphany and is able to see her own position as nothing more than a "doll" kept in a doll's house just as her father kept her, she determines to make a dramatic change in her life that will give her the opportunity to find out who she really is:

If I'm ever to reach any understanding of myself and the things around me, I must learn to stand alone. That's why I can't stay here any longer.

Nora's decision to leave Torvald is one that is brave, dramatic and very moving as she rejects the easy option of staying as she is and instead opts for a much riskier future of trying to find herself as a single woman who has left her husband and children, which was a very taboo action given the historical context of the play. Ibsen therefore presents Nora with far more sympathy than Moliere presents Alceste.

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