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Oddly, the town itself is the main “character” in this early exploration of the dramatic possibilities of environmental conflicts. Its two “needs”—economic prosperity and healthy citizens – are represented by Dr. Stockmann’s brother (the mayor) and Dr. Stockmann himself, the “whistleblower” to the dangers of the bath’s drainage. In the town’s view, led to rock-throwing action by the newspaper’s and business community’s representatives, Hovstad and Aslaksen, Dr. Stockmann is the title character, “enemy of the people,” because the town sees him as betraying its trust. Dr. Stockmann’s family becomes the price he must pay to save the town’s health. In the famous rock-throwing scene (which actually is not staged—it occurs between acts), this “character’s” conflict is made clear, especially since Dr. Stockmann has been revered as the town’s doctor and as such the monitor of the environmental health of this community and those downstream. Dr. Stockmann’s moral character, however, is demonstrated when he refuses to leave town, even after Morton Kiil, a rich citizen, offers a bribe to him. Ibsen is actually criticizing the idea of “majority rule” here; that is, he is dramatizing the value of moral courage to do the right thing at a cost to the general weal. A very complicated moral principle is dramatically investigated here as each character--the daughter, the mayor, but especially the “people” of the title—is brought to witness where they stand. At first reading, Hovstad and Aslaksen appear as stock figures from the casting pool of available villains, but even these characters have subtle nuances to their villainy.
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