A Conflict of Interests

An Enemy of the People is complex in that it deals with many issues. For me, one of the major issues is the question of the good of the people versus the good of the individual. The townspeople look at the water quality problem throughout the book through the perspective of how it could help or harm them. In the beginning, many people, such as Alaskan and Hovstad, are supportive of the doctor because they know only that he wishes to improve the water supply of what is a major source of their income, not that it would cost them anything. Others, like Morten Kil and Billing, believe he is attacking the system of government, “the aristocracy” (Ibsen 33), and support his “revolution” (Ibsen 33) on those grounds. Billing and Hovstad, in particular, hope to use the article as a chance to “enlighten the public on the Mayor’s incapability on one point and another, and make clear that all the positions of trust in the town, the whole control of municipal affairs, ought to be put in the hands of the Liberals” (Ibsen 34). Yet everyone, once they realize that this venture would cost them dearly, that they would have to scrimp and save to pay for the repairs and get by for the two years it would take to improve the water, lose all interest in a revolution, in improving what they have, as the cost, in their mind, is too high. Dr. Stockman is the only one of them who even considers the well-being of the travelers that come to the town, who are infected by the contaminated water. It is no small sickness, either, but rather results in death for some, already suffering from prior ailments. Yet none of the townspeople stop to consider this grave affair, that they themselves are murderers, worse still for knowing their water is deadly and doing nothing either to change it nor warn anyone. In this play, Ibsen is thus presenting such a problem to the reader, who is not intimately involved in the fictional town’s affairs, and thus cannot feel much sympathy for them, with the expectation that the reader will be horrified – and rightly so – at the town’s decisions. It is a lesson, teaching in a stage where nothing is truly at risk, so that when it is, the lessons may carry over.

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