An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen, is a play concerning truth, bureaucrats, and the majority rule. Ibsen points out the negative side of small town politics and the power of persuasion. When Dr. Stockman discovers that the town’s Spa is contaminated, the citizens praise him for saving their town. The authorities are against closing the Spa for their own selfless reasons and begin to manipulate the citizens. The authorities use their position in town to convince the chief editor of the local paper to take their point of view. Then, persuade the editor to print their view in the paper to reach the town’s people. The citizens of the town, who are the majority, are easily manipulated by what they want to hear.

When Dr. Stockman discovers the town’s Spa has contaminated water, two highly admired townsmen automatically praise him. They feel that the doctor has saved their town from ruin. Hovstad, editor-in-chief-of the local paper, and Aslasken, the owner of a printing business, publisher of the local paper, Secretary of the Temperance Union, and chair of the local Homeowners Association. Hovstad and Aslasken both have a huge influence over the citizens and they feel that politics will try to intervene.

Hovstad states that “[t]he public should know, and the sooner the better (Act I, Speech 269).” Hovstad even suggest that the contamination is not what it seems, yet is “…the town has been taken over by a small clique of bureaucrats (Act II, Speech 76).” Aslasken’s character works in moderation; he tries to please everyone all the time. Even when he was supporting the doctor’s view he suggested a public statement “… that would not be disagreeable to our local authorities. With care, I believe that we would not offend anyone” (Act II, Speech 128).”He is also in a high position in the town and he knows the best thing is to bring the subject up lightly to the public. He wants to keep his options open when the time comes to choosing sides. But, the doctor never gets to publish his report.

Peter Stockman, the mayor, does not want the public to know about the contaminated water, because then people would no long vacation there. Most important, he does not want the citizens to know that this was his thirty million-dollar mistake. Peter knows exactly what the public wants to hear and goes directly to Hovstad and Aslasken to gain the town’s majority support. Peter tells Hovstad and Aslasken that in order to repair the Spa, that “…for at least a couple of years, we’ll have to close the Spa entirely (Act III, Speech 224).” He suggests that “[i]f we want these extensive changes, the town itself must pay for them (Act III, Speech 221).” These are things that no taxpayer wants to hear, or wants to do. Immediately Hovstad and Aslasken join Peter’s side and print his review.  Peter has used his power and position to change both of their views in a matter of minutes. With Hovstad and Aslasken on his side, he knows that he will have the majority.

At Dr. Stockman’s town meeting, Peter again persuades the citizens to support his viewpoint. Yet, the doctor stated a new discovery, “… that it is our moral life that is polluted and that it is our communal assumptions that are built on contaminated ground (Act IV, Speech 90).” He boldly states, that its “…the majority-the fiendish, solid majority- that’s poisoning the sources of our moral life and passing its waste on the very ground we stand on (Act IV, Speech 127).” He added to his new discovery that, “…the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom among us is the solid majority (Act IV, Speech115).”

Dr. Stockman is a dedicated to the truth and will give up anything to express his views. The Doctor states, [w]hat ever happens, I’ll have fulfilled my obligations to the public—and I have been called the enemy of society (Act II, Speech 310)!” The town’s people ignored him, he was almost evicted from his home, he lost his positions in town, and yet he still refused to give in to the lies and manipulations. Dr. Stockman stands for the truth and clearly illustrates “that the strongest person in the world is the one who stands most alone (Act V, Speech 302).”

Yet, Doctor Stockman is well meaning he is still labeled as an enemy of the people. He failed partly because the local politicians or authorities prevented him from getting his information to the citizens. The Doctor feels that only the truth is the answer, yet he only sees one side of the dispute. It was his professional blindness that keeps him from understanding how anyone could possibly disagree with the truth. He demonstrates the case of moral ethics that dedicate its outcome for principle.





Ibsen, Henrik. “An Enemy of the People.” Literature. Ed. Leah Jewel et al. 6th ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2001. 1844-1899.

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