An Enemy of the People

by Henrik Ibsen

Start Free Trial

In An Enemy of the People, what was wrong with the water in the play?

In the play, the spa water is contaminated with bacteria, and a debate over releasing the truth of this fact forms the central conflict of the play.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, the medical professional Dr. Thomas Stockmann discovers something sinister about a spa recently opened in his town. The water used in the spa baths is contaminated with a potentially deadly bacteria that could cause an epidemic if it remains polluted and people continue to bathe in it. He tries contacting the local newspapers and media to spread the word and inspire change. However, other factors come into play, preventing this from happening. People such as Thomas's own brother, Peter, and the mayor do not want the truth exposed. The mayor is frightened of losing credibility and power, not to mention the financial ramifications of having to close and redo the spa.

Unfortunately, what starts as a simple crusade to make the spa water safe ends with a massive conflict between Thomas and the town. The media is more interested in preserving its influence and catering to public opinion rather than exposing complicated and possibly uncomfortable truths. The town is further put off by Thomas's shockingly elitist opinions, particularly his rants against democracy in favor of an intellectual elite making the calls. His flashes of egotism only add fuel to the fire and he is eventually labeled an enemy of the people despite being right about the water.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team