An Enemy of the People Additional Summary

Henrik Ibsen


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

All the citizens of the small Norwegian coastal town are very proud of the Baths, for the healing waters make the town famous and prosperous. Dr. Stockmann, the medical officer of the Baths, and his brother Peter, the mayor and chairman of the Baths committee, do not agree on many things, but they do agree that the Baths are the source of the town’s good fortune. Hovstad, the editor of the People’s Messenger, and his subeditor, Billing, are also loud in praise of the Baths. Business is good, and the people are beginning to enjoy prosperity.

Then Dr. Stockmann receives from the university a report stating that the waters of the Baths are contaminated. Becoming suspicious when several visitors became ill after taking the Baths, he felt it his duty to investigate. Refuse from tanneries above the town is oozing into the pipes leading to the reservoir and infecting the waters. This means that the big pipes will have to be relaid, at a tremendous cost to the owners or to the town. When Hovstad and Billing hear this news, they ask the doctor to write an article for their paper about the terrible conditions. They even speak of having the town give Dr. Stockmann a testimonial to honor him for his great discovery.

Dr. Stockmann writes up his findings and sends the manuscript to his brother so that his report can be acted upon officially. Hovstad calls on the doctor again, urging him to write articles for the People’s Messenger. It is Hovstad’s opinion that the town fell into the hands of a few officials who do not care about the people’s rights, and it is his intention to attack these men in his paper and urge the citizens to get rid of them in the next election.

Aslaksen, a printer who claims to have the compact majority under his control, also wants to join in the fight to get the Baths purified and the corrupt officials defeated. Dr. Stockmann cannot believe that his brother refuses to accept the report, but he soon learns that he is wrong. Peter goes to the doctor and insists that he keep his knowledge to himself because the income of the town will be lost if the report is made public. He says that the repairs will be too costly, that the owners of the Baths cannot stand the cost, and that the townspeople will never allow an increase in taxes to clean up the waters. He even insists that Dr. Stockmann write another report, stating that he was mistaken in his earlier judgment. He feels this action necessary when he learns that Hovstad and Billing know of the first report. When the doctor refuses to change his report or to withhold it, Peter threatens him with the loss of his position. Even the doctor’s wife pleads with him not to cross his powerful brother; he is sustained in his determination to do right only by his daughter Petra.

Hovstad, Billing, and Aslaksen are eager to print the doctor’s article so that the town can be aware of the...

(The entire section is 1192 words.)