The Issue of Incompatibility in The Misanthrope

The play The Misanthrope is basically about a social misfit named Alceste, who is incompatible in every way to his society and the people, manners and even unavoidable social necessity and reality. His being incompatible means that he cannot fit with people and social conditions of his place and time. The world which the play represents is the vain upper class society of seventeenth century France, and the main character Alceste is the most "opposite" type of man in his temperament and philosophy.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

Thus, the play exposes and explores the issue of incompatibility, which can also be taken as a universally significant theme.

Alceste is incompatible with his most beloved Celimene most of all. He knows that Celimene is a terrible coquette, the epitome of the dishonest and corrupted people of the time. But he is a man who would like to be entirely sincere and frank. In fact, if Celimene was like Alceste in her behavior and ideals, a happy life would be possible to a great extent. But the fact still remains that, as Alceste is, it is next to impossible for Alceste to be compatible with Celimene. He tries to his possible best to win the heart of Celimene with his ideal visions, but because they are, too impractical to be applied, his values collapse and he turns out to be a ridiculous philosopher. The utopia (perfect world) where Alceste seems to want to take Celimene doesn't exist! There is no possibility of Alceste uniting with Celimene not only because she won't go with him, but also because he won't be able to live up to his ideals.

Alceste is also equally incompatible with his world. His is a world of false praise, flattery, exaggeration, unnecessary politeness and showy manners; and he has a terrible aversion for all that! He finds not only impossible to praise a bad poem as good, he also finds it impossible to say what he wants to say in "more polite" words. There is no chance of teaching, training and improving this fellow to live in this sort of world. He will have to go some lonely desert "unfouled by mankind", as he puts it - though it is pitiable that he can't!

Alceste cultivates the most impractical and even imprudent ideals with which he would run the society and make it a really civilized one. But he is incompatible with the society because the ideals are so impractical that it would be impossible to run even his personal and family life - if he were to live in a human society at all. His basic assumption that we can speak out the naked truth and also save the social system of civility is faulty. His ideas are too impractical (and too good) 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 tells everyone to tell the naked truth, but when it comes to his own case, he cannot propose to Eliante after losing his hopes of Celimene.

Alceste is the main, and almost all, the reason for his being incompatible with his society and his fellow human beings as well as his dear beloveds. 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. The drama ends without showing any hope for Alceste's fitting into his society, or becoming compatible with it.

The Misanthrope Study Center

Portrayal of Virtues and Vices in The Misanthrope

Individual versus Society in The Misanthrope

Alceste as a Social Misfit 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