How are the characters of Nora in A Doll's House and Alceste in The Misanthrope different?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aside from their completely different roles within their respective societies, the characters of Nora and Alceste differ in many ways, but mainly in the following three points of focus:

  • self-actualization
  • system of values
  • social acceptance

When it comes to self-actualization, Nora and Alceste are at different points. Self-actualization occurs when an individual (in this case, the two main characters) gets to a point of knowing themselves well enough to bestow their self-awareness and values upon others. We know that Alceste is well-acquainted with himself and sees himself as someone with a mission to clean up the superfluous French society. Unfortunately for him, nobody listens and, at the end, he even admits that he too has weaknesses and that he should not just cut ties with humanity altogether as he once thought he needed to.

Nora is completely unaware of who she is until the very end of the story, when she realizes that she had been the play "thing" of both her father and her husband. Her actualization has come too late, and rendered her quite upset to the point of literally leaving everything behind.

The system of values of Alceste is much higher than Nora's, although we, as the audience, know that Alceste exaggerates and is eccentric about it. Either way, he does show sincerity in that people should be honest and always speak the truth. He accepts the mistakes of others, as well as his own. He can forgive those who offend him and he even comes to terms with his weaknesses. He is a man of value without a doubt.

Nora's values are questionable. She does an inappropriate business transaction with a man which, although was done with a good intention, is still a wrong thing to do. Nora has committed other acts: she hides the truth from her husband, she forges the signature of her father to take Krogstad's loan, she over-spends money, lies about eating macaroons, and is merely slightly moved by the issues of others. In the end, when she leaves her family, we question the extent to which her family values really defined her own views of family.

As far as social reception/acceptance, we know that Alceste is generally well-liked, by rank he is powerful, by reputation he is looked upon, but by behavior he is scoffed. Nevertheless, being an upper-class male in flamboyant French aristocratic society does give you an upper hand in life.

Nora was a woman during a time when, by Victorian-inspired values, women had no rank within society, were viewed as second-class citizens, and had no power whatsoever. As a result, Nora is basically pushed down by the condescending nature of her husband, and by the bullying of Krogstad. As a woman, she was not allowed to make transactions, initiate anything, nor leave her family. When she does all of these things, she is to be considered a misfit, and a "bad woman".