Quote 2

‘“You have the soul of a servant, Nicola.’ “’Yes, that’s the secret of success in service.’”

These quotes take place between Nicola and Louka in Act Two. They seem to understand the terms of their debate, but it is their underlying attitudes toward those terms that dictate their behavior. Nicola can, fundamentally, accept the task of a servant. It is the office into which he was born, and he believes that the way best to behave nobly is to accept the strictures on his life that being a servant provides. For Nicola, one behaves to do best by one’s masters, and nothing more. For him, this is his kind of nobility, or a kind of high-mindedness, and to do any different would be to behave dishonorably.

Louka, however, sees these social considerations as open to change. She doesn’t believe that being born a servant means one has to accept this mantle, or behave that way for the rest of one’s life. Louka instead wants to do everything she can, within her capacity as a servant, to upend social hierarchies. Her goal is to achieve a nobility not just of manner, as perhaps Nicola has in his dependability, but of actual practice. She wants to be a lady.

The paradox is that Nicola observes a stricter set of social norms. He is perhaps more truthful than Louka. Louka, however, is willing to lie and cheat within reason in order to further her own aspirations, which involve becoming a member of a higher class. And so this relationship of power to servitude is drawn out between them, and eventually leads to the amicable dissolution of their engagement.