Michael J. Cummings...©
coastal town in Norway is on its way to becoming a major health resort
thanks to its new municipal baths. In anticipation of an influx of tourists
in the coming summer season, property values are rising, business is picking
up, and unemployment is decreasing.
the modest home of Thomas Stockmann, an idealistic physician, the spa and
its benefits make for lively conversation between Mayor Peter Stockmann,
the brother of Dr. Stockmann, and Hovstad, editor of the local newspaper,
both of whom arrived for a visit just after the Stockmanns finished supper.
With Hovstad is an assistant named Billing. Dr. Stockmann is out for a
walk with his sons, Ejlif and Morten.
my words, Mr. Hovstad—the baths will become
the focus of our municipal life!” the mayor says. "Think how extraordinarily
the place has developed within the last year or two! Money has been flowing
in, and there is some life and some business doing in the town. Houses
and landed property are rising in value every day."
mentions that he plans to run an article about the health resort—written
by Dr. Stockmann, the medical director of the baths—in
the spring, the right time to generate interest in the new community asset.
The doctor, who came up with the idea for the baths, has been an untiring
promoter of their potential benefits.
Stockmann reminds Hovstad that he, as mayor, played a “modest” part (really
meaning the most important part) in making the baths a reality. It was
the mayor’s practicality and business sense, he hints, that were the driving
forces behind the project.
Dr. Stockmann returns from his walk with Captain Horster, a seafarer, he
is in a cheerful mood. Everything is going right for him and his family,
he says, and he now has enough money to afford a few little luxuries, like
the roast beef they had for dinner. When the mayor inquires about the article
his brother wrote, Dr. Stockmann says he has decided to withhold it for
the time being, but does not say why. Suspecting that his brother is keeping
something from him—possibly something about
the spa—the mayor accuses the doctor of withholding
important information, then says:
have an ingrained tendency to take your own way, at all events; and, that
is almost equally inadmissible in a well ordered community, The individual
ought undoubtedly to acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community—or,
to speak more accurately, to the authorities who have the care of the community's
Mayor Stockmann leaves, Dr. Stockmann's daughter, Petra, a schoolteacher,
arrives and joins in the conversation. An idealist like her father, Petra
says, "There is so much falsehood both at home and at school. At home one
must not speak, and at school we have to stand and tell lies to the children."
Captain Horster offers to provide a room for the school in an old house
Stockmann then opens a letter he received, then waves it before Hovstad
and his wife, announcing a remarkable discovery: The baths are contaminated.
The doctor speaks in a triumphant, jubilant tone, for he believes he has
done a great service for the public welfare. He says several cases of typhoid
fever and gastric fever the previous year aroused his suspicion about the
spa water, so he took samples of it and sent them to a university for analysis.
The letter he holds contains the results of the analysis: The spa is a
cesspool of disease. It seems that tanneries in the town leached impurities
into the water. Hovstad—seemingly idealistic,
like Dr. Stockmann—promises to publish news
of the discovery and says his printer, Aslaksen, a prominent citizen, will
back the decision, as will a homeowner’s association.
the days immediately following the discovery, Mayor Peter Stockmann discovers
it will cost an enormous sum in tax dollars to make improvements, including
laying new pipes to handle the leachate, which his brother says are necessary
to eliminate the pollution. So he decides to challenge his brother’s findings
as faulty and asks him to renounce them. The doctor—viewing
himself as the guardian of the common weal, a savior—refuses.
Hovstad, fearing the wrath of the taxpayers, decides not to publish Dr.
Stockmann’s article. At a town meeting in a large room provided as a goodwill
gesture by Captain Horster, almost everyone lines up against Dr. Stockmann—Mayor
Stockmann, Hovstad, Aslaksen, the homeowners, ordinary citizens—and
shout him down when he attempts to explain the problem and alert the town
to the danger. One citizen wonders whether he has an alcohol problem. Another
suggests insanity runs in his family. Still another thinks he is getting
even for not receiving a salary increase as the spa’s medical director.
All agree that he should be labeled “an enemy of the people,” one bent
on destroying the town. When Stockmann and his family leave the meeting,
the crowd hisses and boos, then begins chanting “enemy of the people,”
“enemy of the people.”
next morning, the Stockmanns discover broken windows and rocks littering
the floor. The doctor piles the rocks on a table, saying he will save them
as heirlooms for his children. A letter arrives in which the landlord gives
Dr. Stockmann notice of eviction. It doesn’t matter, Stockmann tells his
wife, for he and his family will cross the sea and resettle in the New
World. Then Captain Horster arrives and announces his employer has fired
him. The mayor enters and announces that the citizens are circulating a
petition pledging that they will no longer seek the medical services of
Dr. Stockmann. The mayor advises his brother to leave town for a while,
then return and confess his error in writing. Such a move might earn him
reinstatement as medical director of the spa. Dr. Stockmann says he will
never admit that he was wrong—never, never—under
the mayor leaves, another visitor arrives. He is Morton Kiil, the father
of Dr. Stockmann's wife, Katherine. Kiil is the owner of polluting tanneries.
In his will, he had stipulated that a handsome sum be bequeathed to Katherine
and the Stockmanns’ children. However, he tells the doctor that he invested
the bequest in stock in the baths. Furthermore, he is going around town
buying up all the remaining stock in the baths. Thus, if Dr. Stockmann
sticks to his story—that is, if he refuses
to recant—the stock will become worthless
and his wife and children will inherit nothing. Kiil tells the doctor that
he has until 2 p.m. to change his position.
Kiil leaves, Hovstad and Aslaksen arrive. They think Dr. Stockmann is involved
in a scheme to inflate the value of the stocks and want in on the scheme.
But Stockmann dismisses them, raising an umbrella as if to strike them.
They hurry out. Captain Horster invites the Stockmanns to board at his
house during the winter. The doctor expresses his gratitude, then says
he will focus his medical practice on the poor and educate his children
himself. In fact, he says, he will start a school of his own to teach the
town’s guttersnipes. He is feeling upbeat, cheerful as he looks ahead.
am the strongest man in this town,” he says.
he announces he has made another important discovery. Gathering everyone
close to him, he says “The strongest man in the world is he who stands
action takes place in the late 19th Century in a small town on the southern
coast of Norway. The town expects to prosper as a health resort, thanks
to its new municipal baths.
His Brother, Peter Stockmann, and the Townspeople Who Support His Unethical
Thomas Stockmann: Medical officer of the municipal baths, which the
town plans to use to attract tourists and bolster the economy. Stockmann
discovers that the baths are contaminated with leachate from a local tannery.
Work and Year of Publication
Stockmann: Dr. Stockmann's his wife.
of Dr. and Mrs. Stockmann. Petra is a schoolteacher.
and Morten: Sons of Dr. and Mrs. Stockman. Ejlif is 13 and Morten,
Stockmann: Dr. Stockmann's older brother. He is the mayor (burgomaster)
of the town and its chief constable. He also serves as chairman of the
baths' committee. He opposes his brother’s attempt to close the baths to
forestall the spread of disease.
Kiil: Operator of the tannery and Mrs. Stockmann's adoptive father.
of the local newspaper, the People's Messenger.
Horster: A seafarer who provides
Enemy of the People is a realistic stage drama in five acts. It depicts
ordinary life as it is, not as one would like it to be. An Enemy of
the People is one of several Ibsen dramas that are sometimes referred
to as problem plays because they center on social problems and controversial
community issues. Examples of other problem plays by Ibsen are The Wild
Duck, A Doll's House, and Ghosts. An Enemy of the People
was published in 1882, when realism was just beginning to take root, and
staged for the first time in Kristiania, Norway, in 1883. (Kristiania changed
its named to Oslo in 1925.)
wrote An Enemy of the People in Dano-Norwegian, a mixture of the
Danish language and Norwegian dialects. Dano-Norwegian evolved from Danish
while Norway was a province of Denmark. Although Norway gained its independence
in 1814, Norwegians continued to speak and write in Dano-Norwegian, also
known as Riksmål. Beginning in the middle of the 19th Century, Norway
began developing a new Norwegian language, Landsmål (the language
of the land or country), free of Danish influence. .......Meanwhile,
Riksmål developed further and eventually became known as Bokmål,
the language of books. Today both varieties of Norwegian are written and
spoken in Norway. The Dano-Norwegian of Ibsen is simple, concise, to the
point. However, it takes a talented translator to capture the subtleties
of the language and the nuances written into the dialogue of An Enemy
of the People. Therefore, English-speaking students of Ibsen should
choose their translations carefully. One highly respected Ibsen translator
was William Archer (1856-1924), a Scottish-born London journalist, drama
critic, and playwright who translated many of Ibsen's works.
Ibsen wanted to make his plays uncompromisingly realistic, he wrote the
dialogue in simple, everyday, middle-class language rather than elegant,
lofty, or trope-laden language characteristic of romantic plays. But in
mimicking vernacular speech, he chose and arranged his words carefully;
every word and every sentence counted. An Enemy of the People is
not without weaknesses, however. On the one hand, the play is often transparently
didactic in presenting its message, the importance of accepting the truth.
In addition, Dr. Stockmann is so idealistic, so zealous, so triumphal in
his campaign to proclaim the truth that he becomes a caricature rather
than a real person. Ibsen's realism thus becomes less real.
keeping with his realistic plots and dialogue, Ibsen's stage sets resembled
the furnishings of everyday life. There were no elegant foyers or salons
with exotic plants or oriental rugs; there were only ordinary rooms of
ordinary middle-class folk. In his stage directions for An Enemy of
the People, Ibsen describes the set for the first act this way:
Dr. Stockmann's sitting-room.
It is evening. The room is plainly but neatly appointed and furnished.
In the right-hand wall are two doors; the farther leads out to the hall,
the nearer to the doctor's study. In the left-hand wall, opposite the door
leading to the hall, is a door leading to the other rooms occupied by the
family. In the middle of the same wall stands the stove, and, further forward,
a couch with a looking-glass hanging over it and an oval table in front
of it. On the table, a lighted lamp, with a lampshade. At the back of the
room, an open door leads to the dining-room.(From a translation by R. Farquharson
the Ibsen stage, actors did not embellish their lines with broad flourishes
of a hand or other exaggerated body movements. They became ordinary people
going about their ordinary lives. The proscenium arch was important, however.
This arch, from the sides of which a curtain opens and closes, acts in
an Ibsen drama as a frame for the realistic portrait painted by Ibsen,
a portrait that moves. The proscenium arch became a doorway or window through
which the audience—peeping through the arch—could
eavesdrop on people in quiet turmoil. The arch helped Ibsen create the
illusion of reality.
spa represents the town's leading citizens and their followers. Although
it appears wholesome and healthful, it contains unseen contaminants. Mayor
Stockmann and his followers pass themselves off as upright citizens but
are really corrupt at heart. The spa water undergoes a test that reveals
it polluted. In reporting the results of the test, Dr. Stockmann says,
"The whole Bath establishment is a whited, poisoned sepulchre,
I tell you—the gravest possible danger to
the public health!" The citizens also
undergo a test—the crisis precipitated by
the report—that reveals them unethical
and unscrupulous, just as "poisoned" as the baths.
Stockmann's daughter, Petra, a schoolteacher, foreshadows the direction
of the plot and the theme during a conversation at the dinner table in
Act 1. Dining with the Stockmanns are Hovstad, Billing, and Horster. Petra,
an idealist like her father, says, "There is so much falsehood both at
home and at school. At home one must not speak, and at school we have to
stand and tell lies to the children." The school thus is what the community
is revealed as later: false.
the conversation progresses, Petra says, "If only I had the means, I would
start a school of my own; and it would be conducted on very different lines."
Captain Horster then tells her that he has an old house standing empty
and that he would be happy to provide her a room in it for the school.
It is Horster, of course, who provides space later on for the town meeting.
His goodwill gesture results in his dismissal from his job.
and Abel Motif
central conflict in the play centers on the clash between Peter Stockmann
and his younger brother, Dr. Thomas Stockman. In the Old Testament of the
Bible (Genesis 4:1-16), Cain—the first-born
son of Adam and Eve—murders his younger brother,
Abel. Cain, a farmer, was envious of Abel, a shepherd, because God had
accepted Abel's offering over Cain's. Motifs pitting one family member
against another continued to appear in literature down through the ages.
In Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus and the Greek myth on which it
is based, brothers—Polynices and Eteocles—vie
for the kingship of Thebes and kill each other. In Shakespeare's Hamlet,
Claudius kills his brother, the king, in order to succeed him as king and
marry his wife. In the play Inherit the Wind and in films based
on it, a fundamentalist preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, condemns his
own daughter, Rachel, to hell because of her relationship with Bertram
Cates, who is on trial for teaching Darwin's Theory of Evolution in a local
school. The authors of the play, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, based
their work on the 1925 Scopes trail in Dayton, Tenn., in which a teacher
violated the Butler Law by teaching evolution.
and Spielberg's Jaws
must not be hidden, diluted, or altered even when it goes counter to the
wishes of the majority.
apples are sometimes rotten at the core. The baths appear safe and salubrious,
but poison befouls their waters. In like the manner, the town's leading
citizens are outwardly attractive but inwardly repulsive.
matter what everyone thinks or wants; what matters is what is right—even
when only one person is willing to defend what is right. In Act I, Mayor
Stockmann frowns on assertion of the individual will in society, saying,
"The individual ought undoubtedly to acquiesce in subordinating
himself to the community—or, to speak more
accurately, to the authorities who have the care of the
community's welfare." In
so doing, he sets up the clash later in the play with his brother, who
indeed asserts his will.
upright citizens will compromise their morals when their wallets and livelihood
are threatened. In other words, the love of money is the root of all evil.
Steven Spielberg's highly successful 1975 film, Jaws, was based
in part on Henrik Ibsen's
An Enemy of the People. Instead of polluting
the water with a toxic agent, Spielberg polluted it with a gigantic shark.
In Jaws, the residents of Amity Island on the Atlantic coast, who
are dependent on the tourist trade for their livelihood, keep their beaches
open in spite of warnings from Police Chief Martin Brody and ichthyologist
Matt Hooper that a gigantic great white shark roams the waters. In Ibsen's
play, the townspeople attempt to keep the spa open in spite of warnings
that a danger of another kind, disease, infests the waters.
Questions and Essay Topics
Because Dr. Stockmann's discovery
of contamination in the town spa threatens to undermine the town's economic
future, the mayor and his supporters attempt to silence the doctor and
keep his discovery secret. In your own community, do you recall any instance
in which a local government, business, factory, school district, hospital,
day-care center, newspaper, or another entity attempted to withhold vital
information from the public?
Under what circumstances does
a government have a right to withhold information from the public?
In their attempt to refute Dr.
Stockmann at a town meeting, citizens suggest that he has an alcohol or
a mental problem or may be seeking revenge for not receiving a pay raise
as the spa's medical director. In a good dictionary, look up the Latin
term ad hominem (referring to a rhetorical tactic used in an argument
to discredit an opponent). Next, decide whether the citizens' accusations
are ad hominem attacks. If you believe they are, explain why they
can be categorized as such. In addition, decide whether these attacks are
fair or whether they are simply ruses to condemn Dr. Stockmann while obscuring
Newspapers today pride themselves
on their willingness to print the truth. But do they always print the truth?
Or do they sometimes bow to the same forces that pressured Hovstad to abandon
publication of Dr. Stockmann's story?
What about you—do
you frequently change your opinion after yielding to pressure from your
Which of the following is most
responsible for what goes wrong in the spa town: (1) capitalism, which
fosters economic competition and a desire to make money; (2) democracy,
which allows citizens to elect leaders, such as Mayor Stockmann; (3) propaganda,
which often uses unscrupulous tactics in attempts to persuade people to
accept a particular viewpoint; (4) unethical and dangerous environmental
policies of the tannery operation; (5) spineless citizenry; (6) inability
of Dr. Stockmann to communicate the seriousness of the problem the town
If you were an attorney arguing
to close the town spa, you would need evidence that the spa water is indeed
contaminated. How would you obtain this evidence?
climax of the play occurs when people of the town declare Dr. Stockmann
an enemy of the people.
of Henrik Ibsen are available at the following web sites:
Bartleby: Columbia Encyclopedia