Alceste as a Social Misfit in The Misanthrope

Alceste is a social misfit because he cannot fit into the ways of his society. He cannot conform to the social manners and norms of any kind in his society. His ideas and ideals are rigid and impractical, and in his eyes, his society is too corrupted to be followed. He is too rude to be acceptable by the polished society, and the rest of the people in his society are too false for him to conform.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

Alceste is too rude. In a sense, he is also too honest and he cannot resist criticizing everyone who he thinks belongs to the common type of men in the world. He is too obstinate and too bitter in his dissent of the society. He cannot follow any of the etiquettes and polite manners of the upper class in which he lives. He hates not only a few people who may be called really corrupted, but the whole lot of 'humanity'.

The only one whom Alceste can love is Celimene, but even with her he is a misfit; he is not likely to be compatible with her even if she were to go away with him to some desert unfouled by mankind. In fact, his love for the most corrupt coquette Celimene complicates his odd misanthropy. At first, it really seems that he genuinely and even justifiably hates human beings; but after reading the whole drama we find that he is just a pack of paradoxes. His love for Celimene gradually dismantles his odd ideals and he proves to be not a true misanthrope but only a miserable social misfit. Alceste can't put up with even the most beloved person so far as his social manners are concerned.

His ideas are too impractical and they prevent him from making compromises with the society. He would like the whole of human beings to be honest, frank, sincere, and so on. But he is not aware that those excessively good ideas are no good if they cannot be applied: they are not applied even in his own case. He rages against false praise of poetry, but he says that he will praise Orontes's poem if the king told him to do so! He tells everyone to tell the naked truth, but when it comes to his own case, he rambles in roundabout speech when he has to propose to Eliante after losing his hopes of Celimene. He wants people to be firm and sincere in their relationship, but he changes the toyshop of his love as soon as one beloved is found impossible; he ignores Eliante, proposes as an alternative once, ignores her again, and at the end tries to propose to her. The society is a system where certain things have to be regulated on the basis of outward shows, covering of the nakedness with the clothes, telling of bitter truths in gentler words, holding back of bitter criticisms and concealing of hostility, and behaving to a great extent on the basis of what the society expects us to instead of only on what we find is correct.

Alceste is a misfit because he is an extremist. He rails against people and rails against them all and rails against everything in them, as if they have nothing good and as if there is nothing good is possible. He rarely points out a particular fault in a particular person and he rarely has a valid solution for anything. His philosophy is nothing but easy-to-say hard-to-practice norms and conditions. His idea of going away to places where there is no human being is the most stupidly extreme of all. He has invited all sorts of scandals and made enemies by hurting and castigating whoever he meets, except, of course, his Celimene. He is a victim of the whole society's hatred and ridicule, and this is entirely his own doing.

It is true that Alceste's society is to be blamed for the many evils and corruptions; but the question of whether Alceste can be excused is a difficult one. Whatever, Alceste himself is the cause of his being a social misfit; the society has been like that always, and it is not likely to change so easily for one man. Instead, the society makes it so impossible for Alceste to apply his odd ideas and ideals that he is gradually exposed as a ridiculous character. He is mismatched to the society not only because the society is too bad, but also because he turns out to be a ridiculous opportunist, an absurdly jealous idealist, an impractical hypocrite, and a crank.

The Misanthrope Study Center

The Issue of Incompatibility in The Misanthrope

Portrayal of Virtues and Vices in The Misanthrope

Individual versus Society in The Misanthrope

Dramatic Technique in The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope as a Comedy of Manners

Contrasts of Human Relationship in The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope Study Center

Introduction of The Misanthrope

Summary of The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope as a Social Satire

Morality in The Misanthrope

Biography of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere