An Enemy of the People (original Norwegian title: En folkefiende) is an 1882 play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen wrote this play in the response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which was considered scandalous for the time. Ghosts had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality and was deemed indecent for its veiled references to syphilis.
An Enemy of the People addresses the irrational tendencies of the masses, and the hypocritical and corrupt nature of the political system that they support. It is the story of one man's brave struggle to do the right thing and speak the truth in the face of extreme social intolerance. The play's protagonist, Dr Stockmann, represents the playwright's own voice. Upon completion of the play, Ibsen wrote to his publisher in Copenhagen : "I am still uncertain as to whether I should call it a comedy or a straight drama. It may [have] many traits of comedy, but it also is based on a serious idea."
Dr. Thomas Stockmann is the popular citizen of a small coastal town in Norway
. The town has recently invested a large amount of public and private money towards the development of baths, a project led by Dr. Stockmann and his brother, the Mayor. The town is expecting a surge in tourism and prosperity from the new baths, said to be of great medicinal value and as such, the baths are the pride of the town. However, as the baths are starting to succeed, Dr. Stockmann discovers that waste products from the town's tannery are contaminating
the baths causing serious illness among the tourists. He expects this important discovery to be his greatest achievement, and promptly sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which includes a proposed solution, which would come at a considerable cost to the town.
But to his surprise, Stockmann finds it difficult to get through to the authorities. They seem unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue and unwilling to publicly acknowledge and address the problem because it could mean financial ruin for the town. As the conflict ensues, the Mayor warns his brother that he should "acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community". Stockmann refuses to accept this, and holds a town meeting at Captain Horster's house in order to convince the people to close the baths.
The townspeople - eagerly awaiting the prosperity that the baths are believed will bring - refuse to accept Stockmann's claims, as his friends and allies, who had explicitly given support for his campaign, turn against him en masse. He is taunted and denounced as a lunatic, an "Enemy of the People." In a scathing rebuke of both the Victorian notion of community and the principles of democracy, Dr. Stockmann proclaims that in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the multitude, which is easily led by self-advancing demagogues. Stockmann sums up Ibsen's denunciation of the masses, with the memorable quote "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone."
List of characters
- Dr. Thomas Stockmann.
- Mrs. Stockmann, his wife.
- Petra, their daughter, a teacher.
- Ejlif & Morten, their sons.
- Peter Stockmann, Dr. Stockmann's elder brother.
- Morten Kiil, a tanner (Mrs. Stockmann's adoptive father) also known as the badger.
- Hovstad, editor.
- Billing, sub-editor.
- Captain Horster.
- Aslaksen, a publisher.
- Men of various conditions and occupations, a few women, and a troop of schoolboys - the audience at a public meeting.
Dr. Thomas Stockmann
is the protagonist of Henrik Ibsen
's play, An Enemy of the People
. He is a doctor
who is proud of his service to the community, but he is reviled as a villain when he discovers and threatens to reveal that the town's baths
Stockmann's greatest flaw is a large ego, but he is a determined man who stands his ground no matter the cost to himself.
In An Enemy of the People
, speaking the language of comic exaggeration through the mouth of his spokesman, the disillusioned idealist Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Ibsen
puts into very literal terms the theme of the play: It is true that ideas grow stale and platitudinous, but one may go one step further and say flatly that truths die. According to Stockmann, there are no absolute principles of either wisdom
. In this Ibsen is referring indirectly to the reception of his previous plays. For example, the biblical injunction "honor thy father and thy mother" referred to in Ghosts
is not simply either true or false. It may have been a truth once and a falsehood today. As Stockmann puts it in his excited harangue to his political enemies: "Truths are by no means the wiry Methuselahs
some people think them. A normally constituted truth lives—let us say—as a rule, seventeen or eighteen years; at the outside twenty; very seldom more. And truths so patriarchal as that are always shockingly emaciated."
This classic play was also adapted by Arthur Miller
in the 1950s in a production that opened at the Broadhurst Theater on Dec. 28, 1950. It starred Academy Award winner Fredric March and his wife Florence Eldridge as well as Morris Carnovsky; future Oscar winner Rod Steiger was a "townsperson". Miller's adaptation was presented on National Educational Television
in 1966, in a production starring James Daly
. It was also made into a movie of the same name in 1978, starring Steve McQueen
. The BBC
then cast Robert Urquhart
as "Tom Stockman" in their 1980 TV version, adapting the story and the cast names to reflect it now being set in a Scottish
Satyajit Ray's 1989 film Ganashatru, was also based on this play.
An Enemy of the People (with the subtitle The strongest one is that who stands alone) - a Norwegian film issued in 2004 and directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg is an adaptation of Ibsen's play with the same name.