In modern society, the typical notion of the fairest action deciding on an issue is that the majority of a vote wins the vote. Humans have been using this method to decide conflicts or issues in the fairest way possible.
In the play, An Enemy of the People, Dr. Stockmann reveals a bacterial threat in the Baths of his own town. Dr. Stockmann alerts town officials in regard to the bacterial infection, naturally assuming that the Baths will be closed until otherwise. Assuming wrongly, Dr. Stockmann is met with resistance. Dr. Stockman's brother, the town's mayor, fights for having the Baths open for service. The mayor argues having the baths open will appeal to the town's interest economically and Dr. Stockman's "obligation" as a citizen.
In the play, An Enemy of the People, Ibsen challenges the idea of the "majority rules" notion through the utilization of implicit elements of spectacle arguing that the individual is more often correct than the majority.
An implicit element of spectacle Ibsen uses to challenge the idea of majority rules is a key message of the play. A playwright uses a message to get information across to the audience, usually conveying the purpose of the play as a whole. In the key message of the play, Ibsen challenges the idea of democracy as a whole idea. Ibsen portrays the majority (or society) as a tyrant figure, with the influential leaders of being scared to do what is considered to be right as the leaders are ultimately held at the mercy of society.
An example of this message being conveyed can be traced to Hovstad's desires. Hovstad was willing to print Dr. Stockmann's report of the baths however he was afraid to follow through as the subscribers of the newspaper would ultimately become upset with the news article (Ibsen 34).
Another example of this message being conveyed can be traced to the mayor's political position. The mayor could have easily proposed changes for the baths, doing so with some guilt, but he ultimately did not. The mayor did not want to take a risk in exposing himself with the faulty original plans in front of everybody, possibly ruining his public image (Ibsen 13). According to Dr. Stockmann, the majority is afraid of risk and is not intelligent enough to do what is right despite the short-term drawbacks (Ibsen 68).
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Another key message Ibsen relays to the audience is one the mutability of the majority by the leaders. An example of this would be at the town meeting with Aslaksen and the mayor. Both of them took control of the town meeting they are effectively manipulating the townspeople (Ibsen 55). Ultimately, those who hold any kind of power over a group (a majority in this case), well guess what the majority will want; they will always be able to get what they desire.
An implicit element of spectacle Ibsen uses to challenge the idea of "majority rules" through imagery. A playwright uses imagery to help show depth to their work and to help deepen the audience member's understanding of the work at play. Ibsen uses imagery of pollution in the play. The most obvious image is the polluted baths infested with bacteria, however, that is not the full extent of the imagery in the play. The imagery of dirty water is used to symbolize societal and moral corruption. Early on in the play, Hovstad described the group of corrupt town officials as, "The morass that the whole life of our town is built on and is rotting in" (Ibsen 34).
Hovstad, who happens to come from a non-affluent upbringing, is able to see that the affluent men are the true corrupters of the town. Dr. Stockmann makes his own conclusion on where the real pollution derives from. In front of an angry crowd of townspeople, he proclaimed, "…it is the masses, the majority—this infernal compact majority-–that poisons the sources of our moral life and infects the ground we stand on…" (Ibsen 69).
Near the end of the play, Dr. Stockmann is more concerned with the "pollution" that he sees that was caused by the masses than the dirty water from the actual baths. Shortly later, Dr. Stockmann expresses another idea of pollution stating, "All our spiritual springs are poisoned" (Ibsen 70). The idea of pollution to Dr. Stockmann starts to represent a sweltering society that suppresses the truth due to either both the inconvenience and embarrassment that comes along.
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Pollution, when presented in the play, creates dynamic parallelism between the actual bath and the townspeople. The baths were found to have been infected by bacteria from a small action of scientific testing which eventually grew into a larger problem. Similar to the state of the physical baths, when officials of the town were notified in regards to the small issue, the situation eventually escalated into exiling a once well-respected Dr. Stockmann from his home.The imagery of pollution, in the play, challenged the idea of the "majority rules" notion by being an allegory to the townspeople.
An implicit element of spectacle Ibsen uses to challenge the idea of "majority rules" through the theme. A playwright uses theme to help show the main idea; a critical belief about the life the playwright is trying to convey. One of the themes Ibsen uses is the importance of spoken honesty.
Every consequence that Dr. Stockmann faces is because of his spoken honesty to the other characters in the play. Dr. Stockmann brings up the idea of exposing the baths to the mayor since he thinks an exposé is for the betterment of the townspeople eventually having the idea rejected (Ibsen 26). Shortly after, Dr. Stockmann speaks truth in a different manner. Instead, Dr. Stockmann speaks out in frustration with a society that values comfort and financial security over health and facts (Ibsen 28). The usage of theme, in this play, challenged the idea of the "majority rules" notion by conveying the message of the importance of speaking honestly.
In modern society, typically the fairest action on deciding an issue is having the majority of a particular vote, to be elected to win the vote. Humans have been using this method to decide conflicts or issues in the fairest way possible for thousands of years. In the play, An Enemy of the People, Ibsen challenged the idea of the "majority rules" notion through the utilization of implicit elements of spectacle which included: messages, imagery, and theme.
The usage of messages, imagery, and theme, challenged the idea of the "majority rules" notion by conveying the message of the importance of speaking honestly. Ibsen argued that the individual is more often correct than the majority.
In conclusion, Henrik Ibsen was able to challenge the idea of the "majority rule' notion by using implicit elements of spectacle.
Miller, Arthur, and Henrik Ibsen. An Enemy of the People. Penguin Classics, 2015, http://www.cis.dk/uploaded/student_life/drama/enemy/enemy_miller.pdf.
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