An enemy of the people

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"An Enemy of the People" was one of Henrik Ibsen's more controversial works. In the play, Dr. Stockmann discovers that the new baths built in his town are infected with a deadly disease that requires they should be closed for repair. However, the mayor of the town (the Burgomaster), who is Stockmann's brother Peter, rejects the report and refuses to close the baths because it will bring about the financial ruin of the town. When Dr. Stockmann tries to make his case to the people of the town, the mayor counters by pointing out how expensive it would be to repair the baths and dismisses the doctor for having wild, fanciful ideas. At the public meeting Dr. Stockmann is declared "an enemy of the people" by the Burgomaster. As is the case with most of Ibsen's classic works, "An Enemy of the People" speaks to larger issues than those in conflict in the play. The debate is over the bad water pipes at the new baths, but the true conflict is over the clash of private and public morality. Both of the Stockman brothers are flawed. Dr. Stockman's idealism is at odds with the practical realities of the world in which he lives while the Burgomaster ignores ethical concerns. Still, in the end we have to favor the doctor over the mayor because his integrity is clearly stronger, while still recognizing that his idealism is tragically flawed.

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