Capitalism as the Antagonist

Capitalism plays a key role in An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen. It is the economic idea of promoting competition and how privately owned businesses should be free from regulation in order to be financially successful. In this respect, capitalism is the source of many of the problems the community faces in the play.

One instance of capitalism seen in the play is the strong desire to earn money. When Peter Stockmann, Aslasken, and Hovstad oppose Dr. Stockmann in his plight to educate the town about the state of the baths, their main motivation is greed. They think it will simply cost too much money to clean up the baths, despite the health problems they have caused. Instead, they oppress the doctor and make sure that the people of the town see him as an “enemy of the people”.

There is one point when Aslaksen realizes that the funds to fix the baths must come “out of the ill-filled pockets of the small tradesmen.” Once this discovery is made, he soon changes his support to the side of Peter Stockmann. Hovstad quickly falls in suit after Aslaksen. This is probably because Hovstead’s paper, the People’s Messenger, is in “shaky condition” fiscally and is financed by Aslaksen.

Finally, the case of Morten Kiil’s tannery is an example of how capitalism is the main dilemma in the play. The tanneries are the source of the pollution which has tainted the baths. If it had not been for the freedom to gain wealth without regulation, the baths would have not been polluted in the first place.



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One response to “Capitalism as the Antagonist

  1. I also felt that Ibsen had an oppositional tone toward capitalism. If the town lived in a government that had ethical regulations on business, there would not even be this conflict between Dr. Stockman and the townspeople. Also, the detrimental force that is keeping the baths still polluted is the amount of taxes on the townspeople. If the town lived in a socialist society, again, there would not even be a debate on the subject. By portraying the citizens of this town in such a gross manner, with their adversity for the moral decision, Ibsen is probably tyring to expose the faults of capitalism.

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