Please give a summary of An Enemy of the People.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This play by Ibsen is famously about the morality of pursuing an action that you know to be right even when it is opposed by those you seek to help. Stockmann is the medical officer in charge of the Baths, a health resort that is going to open imminently. The Baths have been created by Thomas Stockmann's brother, Peter, the mayor, who is clearly governed by more selfish motives such as profit, whereas Thomas is more of an idealist. What brings the two brothers into conflict is that Thomas receives an analysis of the water at the Baths, indicating that it is polluted. Whilst his liberal friends proclaim him a hero, Peter is incredibly annoyed and seeks to discredit his brother because of the massive amount of money it would take to sort out the problem in order to rebuild the water system. This is a financial cost that would destroy not only those who invested in The Baths but also the whole town. Thomas, however, because he is right and has proof of that fact, is confident that he will win the battle. However, because of the various vested interests of the townspeople, Peter manages to gain support from the majority.

Thomas then seeks to address everybody in a public meeting when he intends to confront the population of his town with the truth that the wealth of the town is based on a lie. This turns into a furious speech about how the polluted water represents the spiritual pollution of the town as a whole, and how the citizens live their lives over a cesspool of untruth and dishonesty. Thomas in particular attacks the majority of the population, who in Thomas' understanding are wrong and unable to think for themselves:

The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That's one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population--the intelligent ones or the fools?

In his opinion, this is the massive flaw of democracy, as it is only the few that are able to think for themselves and can engage in the political situation around them, making the majority easily manipulated and led by political manipulators. For this talk he is voted an "enemy of the people" and made a pariah. His family suffers as well, and the play ends with Thomas determining to stay in Norway and start a new school to try and train the majority to become aware of what is going on in their nation and to become more independent.

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