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During Henrik Ibsen's earlier play, Ghosts which challenged hypocrisy in the society's morality and had references to syphilis. The Norwegian public was critical and gave him very hostile reception. This in turn precipitated him to write 'An enemy of the People' so as to show how disgusted he was on how he had earlier been treated.
An enemy of the people is a story about Dr. Stockmann who discovered that his home town baths had been polluted by waste and refuse from the tannery causing illness to the tourists. This happened despite the town investing a lot of public and private money in the developing baths. The town people expected a surge in tourists visiting the town because of the baths which were believed to have medicinal value.
Dr. Stockmann gives assurance to the town's people that the problem will be fixed through the replacement of the water system. The doctor insists that if the town's people had adhered in the first place to his advice on how best to build drainages they won't be facing problems.
He becomes an outcast in the town after facing resistance from his brother the mayor, Hovstad the newspaper editor and many towns' people due to his emphasis that the people need to repair the water pipes and the bath. He was unhappy with the town's people lack of knowledge.
The main purpose of this book was basically to show Henrik's attitude towards the society in knowing the truth. At the time the play was written in Europe in 1882, Henrik was of the opinion that the decrees and beliefs of an individual are comprised by the society.
The play is centered on the way a person can be ostracized by the society yet he is striving to help them. The problems that face the play's hero, Dr. Stockmann are the same that faced the author after publication of Ghost. In fact Henrik notes that "Dr. Stockmann and I got on excellently together, we agreed on many subjects (Nothram 34). Henrik writes about the middle class and emphasizes on life in small towns and their suburbs.
In An Enemy of the People, Henrik speaks his thoughts through Dr. Stockmann who is the main character of the play and represents the voice of the playwright. He endeavors to speak the truth irrespective of facing extreme social intolerance. Henrik's central theme is an individual's duty on himself but not the conventions by the bourgeois society that are out of date.
Ideas sometimes grow old and truths die. According to Dr. Stockmann, there are no absolute principles of either wisdom or morality (Ibsen 82). The playwright is indirectly referring to the hostile reception he received in the earlier plays. As Stockmann places it to the political opponents; "Truths are by no means the wiry Methuselahs some people tend to think. A normally fabricated truth lives approximately, seventeen or eighteen, sometimes twenty but rarely over that. And truths as patriarchal as that are always shockingly emaciated" (Ibsen 78).
Embracing change is well highlighted in th play as a theme. Despite the opinions of the doctor and the mayor remaining consistent all through the play, Aslaksen's and Hovstad ideas change.
It is understandable that the mayor does this so as to remain in power and the doctor's opinions are based on morality and science and not on politics and economics of the town. The newspaper man has various motivation of his consistent change of opinion in the play. He is a leftist radical who is interested in Petra, Dr. Stockmann's daughter. He also has the motivation of keeping his paper in business.
Tyranny of the Majority
In the play An Enemy of the People, the majority are seen as being tyrants. The leaders are reluctant and afraid to do the right things just because they are at the mercy of their subjects. The opinion of the majority is seen as the foundation on how the people in a particular society are governed. The views of the minority however good are disregarded.
Majority is Liberal
The majority of the society demand progress and reforms, however, they don't care of the negative consequences caused by their actions. This may be due to the fact that the majority is not intellect to do right things because they are afraid of the risks.
Manipulation of the Majority
Henrik illustrates that the majority can be manipulated by leaders. The majority do not rule directly, but the fear of the majority make the leaders rule dishonestly.
This term is used very often in the play apart from the mayor and Aslaksen all characters claim that they are free thinkers. None of them except Dr. Stockmann sticks by this claim. When Stockmann accuses Hovstad of being a free thinker, Hovstad denies this claiming he has never said he is a free thinker while in private but not in public domain.
This proves Dr. Stockmann's reasoning that "intelligent individuals do not act on their opinions just because they fear the opinion of the majority (Ibsen 82). In a democratic society, free thinking can be compared to revolutionary.
At the end of the play, An Enemy of the people, Dr. Stockmann's changes his position many a times. In the beginning he is proud to be 'an enemy of the people', but early in the Act V he says that the words wound him and are lodged on his heart (Ibsen,90) The only things consistent with him is his sense of honor and his short temper.
He embraces partially the title of the enemy of the people with sarcasm. This is seen when he attacks Hovstad and Aslaksen with a cane.
Dr. Stockmann speaks against tyranny propagated by the majority, but still he is happy to be Hovstad's enemy despite Hovstad having a lot control and power. He calls himself an enemy of the people while implying sarcastically that Hovstad who is corrupt is he real enemy. Despite being righteous, Dr. Stockmann makes decisions that make his life harder. He chooses to remain in town just because he is angry and wants to continue fighting.
In Act II, the mayor accuses Dr. Stockmann of being resentful to authority (Ibsen 36). This in essence implies that the doctor likes attacking authority at will. Therefore, the doctor's position when the play ends as a result of his morality as well as his defiant personality.