An Enemy of the People

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Doctor Thomas Stockmann is the sole physician in a small Norwegian coastal town. One day he makes the surprising discovery that the local baths, which are well attended by people seeking to improve their health and which thus constitute a major economic factor in the lives of the townspeople, have been contaminated. Dr. Stockmann takes the position that the baths must be closed for the season or at least until the source of the contamination can be found and the problem corrected.

The doctor’s view of the problem seems reasonable enough. He receives the support of the liberal town newspaper and a majority of the public but is almost immediately opposed by his own brother, Peter, the mayor of the town and the senior member of the Board of Directors at the baths. Peter Stockmann both questions the scientific accuracy of the tests used by the doctor and declares that, in any case, the doctor’s concern for the public health must be subordinated to the economic well-being of the town. The conflict in the play is thus one between pure truth and the self-serving use of what passes for truth.

Dr. Stockmann loses all public support for his position as soon as the economic consequences of his discovery become known. He is ridiculed at a public meeting, and a mob marches on his house and stones it. In the end, he is forced to consider emigrating to America. People seem to be willing to accept truth only as long as their financial and power positions...

(The entire section is 518 words.)