I found An Enemy of the People to be a piece that reproaches and examines corruption and how it impacts society. Peter Stockman, the mayor of the town, is morally debased for his opposition of cleaning the Baths, even though a great deal of people have and will continue to fall ill from it. The makers of The People’s Messenger are also subject to corruption, for even though they are a “liberal-minded independent” press, they cater to the general public and only print what the people want to hear for their company’s financial gain (Ibsen).
Peter Stockman is not only the mayor of the town, but Chairman of the polluted Baths, which allows the opportunity for favoritism. Ethically, Peter should have no partiality for the benefit of the Baths, yet, instead practicing his authority for the good of the people, he contests to have the Baths avoid the scandal and the expenses for repair, even if countless people fall ill. The play also suggests that even if the costs of repair were not so high, Peter would still allow the waters to remain polluted if it meant denying to his brother, Dr. Thomas Stockman, that he was in fact correct all along. In Act I, on the subject of his brother, Peter disparages him by saying “Oh, ideas yes! My brother has had plenty of them in his time–unfortunately. But when it is a question of putting an idea into practical shape, you have to apply to a man of different mettle,” which elicits the innate aggression between them (Ibsen). Later in the act, Thomas states “I wrote opposing the plans before the work was begun. But at that time no one would listen to me” (Ibsen). If Peter were to consent to his brother’s claims, it would be catastrophic for his esteem in the town. For Peter Stockman to allow his company’s waters to remain poisoned for the sake of his pride and the wealth of the company exemplifies the level of corruption that can reside in a government, and it instigates a level of cynicism from the reader, as a citizen under authority.
The play does not just expose how political corruption can form, it also examines its relation to society. Peter goes to The People’s Messenger and influences the editor and the printer from releasing Thomas’s exposé. It did not take much for Peter to recruit them; The People’s Messenger is not unfamiliar with corruption. The People’s Messenger makes claims of being a “liberal-minded independent” press, however, they cultivate their issues for the sole purpose of commercial gain, even if it may be misleading or common exploitation. For instance, Billing hires Petra to translate a book about “a supernatural power that looks after the so-called good people in this world and makes everything happen for the best in their case–while all the so-called bad people are punished”, which contradicts everything the staff of the paper believe in. To respond to Petra’s refusal, Hovstad sates “Well, but that is all right. That is just what our readers want” (Ibsen). The hypocrisy of The People’s Messenger exemplifies how ubiquitous and manipulative corruption can be. As a respected form of media, The People’s Messenger’s perversions can trickle down to the bourgeois.
With corruption present in the government as well as the media, the people of the town are easily swayed to allow countless people to fall ill for their own financial gain, all with a sound mind. That is why I feel Ibsen is presenting an examination of corruption’s presence and domination in society.