An Enemy of the People

by Henrik Ibsen

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Characters Discussed

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Dr. Thomas Stockmann

Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the medical officer of the Municipal Baths, a conscientious man of science and the enemy of illness and deceit. Stockmann discovers that the healing waters, the principal source of income for the town, are polluted, causing typhoid fever and gastric illnesses to the users. Because of his discovery, he incurs the censure of the town and is proclaimed an “Enemy of the People.” Stockmann is the one honest man in public life in the town. When he realizes that all of his associates would prefer to conceal the fact that the baths are polluted, he is at first amazed and then infuriated. Denied all means of spreading his information through the press or in public meetings, he at last calls a meeting in the home of a ship captain, Captain Horster. Before Stockmann can speak, however, the group elects a chairman, Aslaksen, who permits Stockmann’s brother, Peter, the mayor of the town, to make a motion forbidding the doctor to speak on the matter of the baths because unreliable and exaggerated reports might go abroad. Aslaksen seconds the motion. Stockmann then speaks on the moral corruption of the town and manages to offend everyone, including his wife’s adoptive father, Morten Kiil, a tanner whose works are one of the worst sources of water pollution. Morten Kiil buys up the bath stock the next day and proposes that the doctor call off the drive because he has made the purchase with money that Kiil had planned to leave Mrs. Stockmann and the children. Stockmann rejects the suggestion. He thinks of leaving the town and going to America, but when Captain Horster is discharged for permitting Stockmann to speak in his house, he cannot sail on Horster’s ship, and he decides to remain in the town, educate the street urchins, and bring up his own sons to be honest men. He says that only the middle class opposes him and that the poor people will continue to call on him. In his decision, he is cheered by his young schoolteacher daughter, Petra, and by Mrs. Stockmann and one of the boys. Although Stockmann is not an especially personable character, he is an excellent representation of the frustrations that confront the reformer.

Peter Stockmann

Peter Stockmann, the mayor of the town and brother of Dr. Stockmann. Peter Stockmann is a typical, willfully blind public official who would rather poison the visitors of his town than cut its income. Under the pretense of concern for the town, he is able to win others to his side. He ruins his brother but suggests that he will reinstate him if he recants.


Hovstad, the editor of thePeople’s Messenger. At first, Hovstad supports Dr. Stockmann and plans to print his article about the baths. When he learns that public opinion is against Stockmann, however, he deserts him until he hears that Morten Kiil has bought up the bath stock. He then offers to support Stockmann again because he thinks that Stockmann will cash in on the baths and he wants to be in on the deal. Hovstad starts off as a forthright newspaperman and is a disappointment when he abruptly changes character and sides.


Aslaksen, a printer. Aslaksen starts out as a volunteer supporter of Stockmann’s proposal to clean up the baths. As chairman of the Householder’s Association, he promises the support of the majority in the town, but as soon as matters become difficult, and when Dr. Stockmann grows more emotional than Aslaksen thinks is in keeping with his idea of moderation, he turns against the...

(This entire section contains 977 words.)

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doctor. He goes with Hovstad to try to cash in on the profits that they think Stockmann expects to make with Morten Kiil.


Petra, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Stockmann. Petra, an earnest young woman, is the first to discover Hovstad’s insincerity. Petra, a teacher, refused to translate an English story for Hovstad to print because its theme is that a supernatural power looks after the so-called good people in the world and that everything happens for the best, while all the evil are punished; she has no such belief. When Hovstad tells her that he is giving his readers exactly the kind of story they want, Petra is distressed. When he blurts out a few minutes later that the reason he is supporting Dr. Stockmann is that he is Petra’s father, Petra tells him that he has betrayed himself and that she will never trust him again. Because she supports her father, she loses her job. Her employer tells her that a former guest in the Stockmann home has revealed Petra’s emancipated views. Petra is her father’s true child.

Mrs. Stockmann

Mrs. Stockmann, the doctor’s wife and his loyal supporter. At first, she does not want her husband to go against the wishes of his brother, but she soon gives her full approval. She is presented as a woman without a strong personality.

Morten Kiil

Morten Kiil, a tanner, Mrs. Stockmann’s adoptive father. Although described by other characters as an “old badger,” a man of wealth whose influence and money Dr. Stockmann hates to lose because of his wife and children, Morten Kiil seems to live more by reputation than by representation in the play. He goes against Dr. Stockmann and buys up all the bath stock with money he had intended to leave to Mrs. Stockmann.

Captain Horster

Captain Horster, a ship’s captain who befriends Dr. Stockmann. He is the only person outside the Stockmann family who remains loyal to the doctor. He allows Stockmann to attempt his public speech about the baths to an audience assembled in his house.


Ejlif and


Morten, the two young sons of the Stockmanns.


Billing, a sub-editor. He agrees with Aslaksen and Hovstad.




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