Which character, Nora in A Doll's House or Alceste in The Misanthrope is portrayed with greater sympathy? Why?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arguably, the character of Alceste in Moliere's The Misanthrope may elicit more sympathy in the reader than the character of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House.

The reason for this is that, although Alceste is indeed a misanthrope, it is not really people that he hates, but the falsehood, hypocrisy, lies, and meanness that humans are capable of displaying at will. At all times, Alceste is faced with the stone wall of French aristocratic society: one which is superfluous, malicious and hypocritical. As a member of this society, Alceste has no choice but to live in eternal frustration at having nobody understand the passion with which he views his system of values. In the end, Alceste is not really an angry man, but a frustrated man who, in the end, also happens to be a forgiving man who, as it happens, does earn the appreciation (though he transforms nobody) of those who surround him. If anything, Moliere depicts Alceste as an eccentric, somewhat neurotic man who is meant to serve as the comical piece of the play. He is also the lone victim of a society which could care less about his values, making him also a character to feel sad for. However, Alceste denotes redeeming traits all throughout the play which certainly ease the heavily-charged nature of social dynamics that take place. He even comes to terms with the fact that he is still human, and has the capacity to cave into the maneuvers of society after all. This makes him all the more admirable. 

You shall observe me push my weakness to its furthest limit and show how wrong it is to call any of us wise and demonstrate that there's some touch of human frailty in every one of us.

On the other hand, Nora represents the very superfluous, oblivious and clueless strata of society that lives carefree and joyful...at least, that is what she believes. Although Nora is about to have her first instance of self-actualization (and it will come at a heavy price), the fact remains that Ibsen does not present Nora to the audience as three-dimensionally as Moliere does with Alceste.

If anything, Nora brings up a lot of questions that the audience may not be able to answer. Her state of mind is questionable. It is hard to determine whether Nora's tendency to condescend the pain of others while exalting her own happiness (like she does with Mrs. Linde) is because she is a snob, or because she is ignorant, or because she is careless. In the same note, we cannot really tell what are Nora's true emotions for Dr. Rank other than she finds him agreeable and feels blushed to know that he had a love interest for her. Since Ibsen does not expand much on this, it is hard to determine whether Nora is a "hot-blooded" woman, or if she is frigid in terms of sensuality. At the end, Nora is equally enigmatic after realizing that her marriage is a sham. Her choice to leave EVERYTHING behind, including her children, leaves a lot of questions to be answered: did she love them after all? Why break so abruptly? What could she expect from a new life?

Therefore, the way in which both playwrights treat their main characters is quite different. Unquestionably, Moliere makes Alceste denote more humanistic traits than Nora, making him perhaps even more likeable.

Read the study guide:
The Misanthrope

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