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The entire play is built on the question of absolute vs. relative, in that the social choice facing Dr. Stockmann is whether the financial interests of the few outweigh the health interests of the masses. Even if the choice were simple, there are still the ramifications of long-range economic effects on the town. These dualities are reflected in the characters, not only in Stockmann’s choice but in the financial powers (the owners of the baths, for example), and in Stockmann’s family. After all, the house damage (and it is interesting that that window breaking does not actually take place on stage but is implied in the stage directions). Is it really beneficial to the Stockmann family that their house and social standing are threatened by the doctor’s abstract concern for a possible health risk? The townspeople as a “character” are duplicitous in their misunderstanding of Stockmann’s motives. Most telling is Ibsen’s own problem of placing the play in the category of “comedy” or simply “a drama.” Hovstad, as the town’s news voice, also has the dual character of revealer and/or concealer of “news,” since he also has the motive of wanting to expose what he sees as governmental corruption. The interesting detail that the mayor Peter is also Stockmann’s brother bring the duplicity of all the characters into focus.
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