Table of Contents
Doctor Thomas Stockmann: The medical officer at the new Municipal Baths and the protagonist.
Petra Stockmann: Daughter of Dr. Thomas Stockmann and a teacher.
Hovstad: Editor of “The Peoples’ Messenger” the local paper.
Aslaksen: A publisher
Morten Kiil: A tanner (Mrs. Stockmann’s father), also known as the Badger.
An Enemy of the People (original Norwegian title: En folkefiende), an 1882 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, followed his previous play, Ghosts, which criticized the hypocrisy of his society’s moral code. In An Enemy of the People, a man dares to expose an unpalatable truth publicly and is punished for it.
This chapter is an extract of Act 3 from the play which is set in In the newspaper office, Hovstad and Billing discuss the pros and cons of running Dr. Stockmann’s article. Dr. Stockmann arrives and tells them to print the article, but they begin questioning how valuable it is to expose the government in this way, concluding that printing this article will do more harm than good, because of its likely effect on the town’s economy.
Peter Stockmann appears with a statement of his own, intended to reassure the public about the safety of the spa baths, and the newspaper agrees to print it. Desperate, Dr. Stockmann decides that he does not need the paper to print anything and that he can fight this battle on his own. He decides to call a town meeting and spread the information that way. Although Katrine Stockmann realizes that her husband is risking his reputation, she stands by him.
Aslaksen and Hovstad decide to support the Doctor
The play is set in the editorial office at the People’s Herald. Hovstad was writing at the desk when Billing entered with Dr. Stockmann’s report. They discussed the doctor’s powerful writing and how they can use it to attack the government. Aslaksen was in the other room, and they were careful so that he doesn’t hear them.
Hovstad was excited because if the mayor accepted the doctor’s proposal, he will have to face the fury of the big stockholders, and if he rejected it, he will face the giant Homeowners Association. Either way, the mayor was in trouble.Dr. Stockmann entered and told them about his argument with the mayor. The three were extremely excited to “tear down” the current administration.
When Aslaksen entered, they assured him that both the radicals and the moderates would want to support the doctor. The doctor had asked him to pay special attention to his report to make sure that were no mistakes. The doctor got emotional by seeing their support and encouragement.
Hovstad and Aslaksen considered Dr. Stockmann to be very useful
After he left, Hovstad and Aslaksen agreed that Dr. Stockmann might become very useful to them, although for different reasons. Aslaksen was worried that the doctor was not wise enough, but Hovstad wanted to use him as a political troublemaker. Changing the subject, Aslaksen mentioned that Governor Stensgard was sitting in Hovstad’s editor’s chair before him.
Billing said something about mixing radical journalism and politics, and Aslaksen reminded Billing that he too was running for council secretary. Billing assured them that he was only doing it to annoy the establishment. Aslaksen stepped out, and Billing and Hovstad discussed how much they would love to get rid of him. They were friendly to him only because he used to let them print on credit.
They wondered whether Dr. Stockmann could help them finance the paper. He might become wealthy as the rich Morten Kiil would probably remember the Stockmann’s in his will. Billing left and Petra entered, she had agreed to translate an English story for the paper but now she refused on the ground that its content was against everything for which the paper stick up.
The article was about a higher purpose guiding people’s action. Hovstad replied that Billing to whom Petra was trying to pursue thought the piece would be good feed to keep the paper’s simple readers happy. Petra was shocked to see Billing being so calculative, and Hovstad also mentioned Billing’s run for secretary.
Petra still refused to do the piece, but she thanked Hovstad for his support for her father. He implied that it made it easier as she was his daughter to which Petra left feeling disgusted.
The mayor shares the outcome of publishing the article
The mayor arrived and Hovstad was surprised to see him. The mayor commented on how nicely the paper was set up. He began to talk about the doctor’s proposal for the baths, but Hovstad played dumb until the mayor noticed the doctor’s report laying on the desk. The mayor told Hovstad and Aslaksen that if the doctor’s plan for the baths went through, it would mean a huge sacrifice for the town.
The expenses will have to come out of a municipal loan, and the baths will have to be shut down for two years. Hovstad and Aslaksen now started to change their minds about supporting Dr. Stockmann. The mayor assured them that the doctor’s report was pure imagination. Instantly they saw Dr. Stockmann approaching and the mayor hid in a side room.
The doctor wanted to see the proofs of his article, but they were not yet ready. He expressed to the two men that if any kind of celebration was being planned in his honour, he wanted them to cancel it. Just when Hovstad was trying to tell the doctor how things stood, Mrs. Stockmann entered. She had come to tell Dr. Stockmann not to throw away the livelihood of his family by printing his article.
The doctor reminded her that he had all the support that he needed, and yet she told him that it was a horrible thing to have behind him. He asked her to go home while he worried about society. He then noticed the mayor’s ceremonial hat and cane lying on a chair. He guessed that the mayor was nearby so he puts on the hat and begins to parade about the office until the mayor comes out in anger. The doctor mocks his brother as he was sure that he had everyone’s support.
Aslaksen and Hovstad told him that they won’t print the article. Hovstad won’t dare because the subscribers control the paper and the proposal would ruin the town. The mayor gave Hovstad an official statement that he can print to put an end to any rumours. The doctor resolved to hold a public meeting, but Aslaksen informed him that he won’t find an organization to give him a hall.
Act III is the changing point in the drama. Here we see the various motives of the characters examined under pressure and thus we find out who are the real men of principles. At the beginning of the act when Aslaksen and Hovstad thought that the doctor’s discovery will be popular and beneficial and when they think it will provide an opportunity to get rid of the old authorities, they start to support him.
Later when they realize that it will be harmful to the town and therefore unpopular, they turn against the doctor. Aslaksen is a man who does not wish to offend anyone and who wants to proceed with moderation. But more importantly, when his principles are challenged with the possibility that he will lose financially, the principles were no longer important.
In this act, the audience sees, for the first time, why the mayor is a successful politician. The mayor’s manipulation of Aslaksen, Hovstad, and Billing is proficient. The mayor compliments Hovstad and Aslaksen. He assures Aslaksen that he was impressed by the “admirable spirit of self-sacrifice” in the town. Ibsen makes no effort to hide the mayor’s intentions. The audience witnesses the quick betrayal of the doctor and his principles. Ibsen wants the audience to be repelled by this, although his article had put the mayor and the town in a particularly painful situation.