An Enemy of the People

by Henrik Ibsen

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Places Discussed

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Baths. Newly constructed public spa in a Norwegian seaside town. As he does in many of his plays, Ibsen uses key features in the landscape to symbolize the values of those who live in the region. Hence, although his play unfolds in a number of private homes and public gathering places, the Baths dominate the dramatic landscape and take on symbolic significance. In a Norwegian town deteriorating from lack of business, the construction of the Baths means an economic boost through tourism. Literally, the Baths will bring much-needed cash into the region. Symbolically, they will bring new life, serving as a kind of baptismal font for the area’s citizens whose prestige and pocket books will grow from the industry they will generate. Unfortunately, the Baths are polluted and pose a threat to those who use them. Symbolically, they also stand as a symbol for the pollution that has invaded the citizens of the town. Many would rather ignore the danger to themselves and the tourists who might use the Baths than admit there is a problem. The town’s leaders are especially corrupt, as they are willing to hide the truth in order to protect their investments and save their positions of power. Ironically, the water that should bring new life becomes a source of further pollution; as Stockman observes at one point in the drama that it is not merely a question of water supply, but the “whole of social life that we have got to purify and disinfect.”


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Gray, Ronald D. “An Enemy of the People.” In Ibsen: A Dissenting View. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Gray develops in a very interesting way the widely held theory that An Enemy of the People is an allegory on the hostile reception generally given Ibsen’s previous play, Ghosts.

Hornby, Richard. “The Validity of the Ironic Life: An Enemy of the People.” In Patterns in Ibsen’s Middle Plays. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1981. An extremely thorough and convincing interpretation of the play as an ironic portrait of Dr. Stockmann, a “multifaceted” character “mixing noble and base impulses.”

Knutson, Harold C. “An Enemy of the People: Ibsen’s Reluctant Comedy.” Comparative Drama 27 (Summer, 1993): 159-176. Analyzes the comic tone of the play. In Stockmann’s inflated ego Ibsen is, to some extent, consciously parodying himself.

Shaw, George Bernard. “An Enemy of the People: 1882.” In The Quintessence of Ibsenism. 1891. Reprint. New York: Hill and Wang, 1958. Shaw’s book introduced Ibsen to England and helped make Ibsen’s works popular worldwide. It remains an indispensable guide to the plays.

Weigland, Hermann J. “An Enemy of the People.” In The Modern Ibsen: A Reconsideration. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1960. Originally published in 1925, Weigland’s essay is still one of the most thorough examinations of the play.

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Critical Essays