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Theatre / An Enemy of the People

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An Enemy of the People (Norwegian: En folkefiende) is an 1882 play in five acts by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

The main character is Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who has recently become popular in his small, unnamed coastal town in Norway for working with Peter Stockmann - his brother, and the town's mayor - to develop and build public baths. Dr. Stockmann discovers that the baths are being dangerously contaminated by the local tannery, and sends a detailed report and proposed solution to Peter. At first, the town supports him, but Peter turns it against him and he is declared an enemy of the people.


Ibsen's message in this play is that The Complainer Is Always Right, or, in Dr. Stockmann's words, "a minority may be right, [but] a majority is always wrong." The play has many comedic elements, but at its core, it was meant to be an Author Tract and a Take That, Audience! in response to an earlier work, Ghosts, being considered scandalous.

An Enemy of the People provides examples of:

  • Annoying Younger Sibling: When you consider that Peter is the older of the Stockman brothers, his opening dialogue with Thomas sells it.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Billing. His impetuous and selfish personality suggests that he's had this for a while; for a more direct example, see Wild Card.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Inverted, obviously.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Katherine, though low on the 'snarky'.
  • Downer Ending: Stockmann is unable to publish his findings or even read them, and his family suffers as a result of the town refusing to listen. Petra is fired from her job, and people throw rocks in their windows. Katherine's father also invests his grandchildren's inheritance in the baths, which means they'll probably suffer financially in the future. The play ends with the family hiding in the Stockmann home, and many productions also show the crowd getting ready to throw more rocks at them. And the tragedy isn't over yet — Stockmann is right, and in a couple years (or less), the town is going to get hit with the consequences of letting people bathe in poisoned water. So Peter's efforts to open the baths and financially help the town will have been for absolutely nothing.
  • Fatal Flaw: A lot of the male characters.
    • Dr. Stockmann's arrogance and headstrong personality. Though he has the best intentions of the coastal town in his mind, his attitude towards authority and casual disrespect of the populace as a whole is what utterly ruins him, and his family.
    • Peter Stockmann's pragmatic attitude in regards to the Baths. Though clearly an intelligent man, he is willing to let the Baths run the risk of being poisoned rather than spend thousands fixing them.
    • The venality of Hovstad, Aslaksen, and Billing.
  • A God Am I: During Dr. Stockmann's Author Tract in Act IV, he slips into this territory. This is what ends up turning his audience into an angry mob.
  • Heroic BSoD: Dr. Stockmann has a short one in Act V when Morten Kiil, Stockmann's father-in-law and the owner of the tannery, invests his own grandchildren's inheritance in the baths to force him to tell the public he was wrong.
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  • Heroic Wannabe: Some characters interpret Dr. Stockmann as such.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Dr. Stockmann, obviously, though how much of a jerk he actually is depends on which character you're talking to. Regardless, his attitude and flaws do not change the fact that he is right. The water is poisoned, and it is going to hurt a lot of people.
    • Peter's not wrong to be concerned about how closing the springs will effect the town's economy — Stockmann even acknowledges it. However, he goes way, way too far, and he stubbornly refuses to look at the bigger picture. (Delaying the springs' opening? Bad. Letting people use them, resulting in countless people getting sick or maybe even dying? Worse.)
  • Karma Houdini: Every single character other than Dr. Stockmann, his immediate family, and Captain Horster wrongs the Stockmann family somehow and gets away with it. Kiil stands out in particular.
  • Meaningful Name: The Stockmans. Peter (the believer) and Thomas (the doubter).
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Billing justifies his support for Stockmann by invoking the trope.
  • Period Piece: Downplayed, but the 1882 tensions in Norwegian politics play its part in the dramatic background. Norwegian politics were going critical, and the "old regime" was about to collapse. When Hovstad talks about the "old men" running the town and that everybody else is kept out, he speaks on behalf of the growing political tension (and frustration) from the leftists.
  • Spiritual Sequel: To The League of Youth, courtesy of Aslaksen, the newspaper editor. He is present in both plays, and they take place in the same town. The political themes are also related.
    • Stockmann seems to be an even more obvious Spiritual Successor of Stensgaard (the main character in The League of Youth) when you consider that both of them has a brilliant idea, and are being pushed too far by the wild cards. Aslaksen makes it difficult for both of them.
    • To top this, the teacher of Stockman´s sons is none other than Rørlund, last seen in The Pillars of Society. Thus, all three plays are set in the same town.
  • Title Drop: Several times in Act IV.
    Peter/Hovstad/Billing/Aslaksen/Audience: ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Aslaksen, compared to his drunken status in The League of Youth. In the other play, Aslaksen unwittingly mixed some letters while drunk, messing it up for the main character. In this play, he consciously obstructs Stockmann, after having supported him in the first place. Aslaksen has also developed his social status as a part of the bourgeouis community.
  • Wild Card: Hovstad, Billing, and Aslaksen are all this to some extent, especially Billing; it's implied that the mayor turns him against Dr. Stockmann by promising him the position in the town's government he was running for behind his coworkers' backs. (Their newspaper, The People's Messenger, is left-wing and polarized against that right-wing government.)

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