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In An Enemy of the People, what dramatic reversal takes place in Act III?

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macboy1000 | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted March 5, 2012 at 8:42 PM via web

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In An Enemy of the People, what dramatic reversal takes place in Act III?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 6, 2012 at 12:17 PM (Answer #1)

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In 1882, Henrik Ibsen wrote An Enemy of the People as a denunciation of collectivism. It concerns problems with the safety of public baths in a small town, and the fight of Dr. Stockmann against public opinion to inform and educate.

In Act III, Dr. Stockmann has written a scientific paper proving the unhealthy influence of the tannery on the baths. He has given it to the local newspapermen to print, but after he leaves they are visited by his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann:

Peter Stockmann: ...If the town wants these very extensive alterations, it will have to pay for them.
Aslaksen: But, damn it all--I beg your pardon--this is quite another matter, Mr. Hovstad!
Hovstad: It is, indeed.
Peter Stockmann: The most fatal part of it is that we shall be obliged to shut the Baths for a couple of years.
Hovstad: Shut them? Shut them altogether?
Aslaksen: For two years?
Peter Stockmann: Yes, the work will take as long as that--at least.
Aslaksen: I'm damned if we will stand that, Mr. Mayor! What are we householders to live upon in the meantime?
Peter Stockmann: Unfortunately, that is an extremely difficult question to answer, Mr. Aslaksen. But what would you have us do? Do you suppose we shall have a single visitor in the town, if we go about proclaiming that our water is polluted, that we are living over a plague spot, that the entire town--
Aslaksen: And the whole thing is merely imagination?
Peter Stockmann: With the best will in the world, I have not been able to come to any other conclusion.
(Ibsen, An Enemy of the People, gutenberg.org)

In favor of profit and public opinion, Peter convinces the newspaper to not only reject Dr. Stockmann's paper, but to run articles criticizing and ridiculing him. Dr. Stockmann thought that he had the impartial and objective outlet of the news on his side, but instead he becomes a victim of public destruction, egged on by his brother and fueled every day by the media. Although he tries, one man cannot stand up against a committed culture of personal destruction, and his message of safety and personal responsibility is lost in an entirely invented attack on his person.

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