Greed and Economy: The True Enemies of the People

One of the main aims in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is to illustrate the great lengths an individual or a group will go to in order to preserve their public image or their finances. Although mentioned briefly in Act III, Petra’s refusal to translate the article is what lies at the center of this play. Devoid of outside forces, the intention of the article which revolved around a “higher power” inspiring the actions and goals of others is what is omnipresent in this play.

Throughout the play, Peter Stockman is intent upon nullifying Thomas Stockman’s facts, opinions, and ideals. Knowing that Thomas is a naive and idealistic individual, Peter caters to these personal characteristics in order to declare Thomas an “enemy of the people”. The mayor is able to hide behind the importance of the revenue that the baths would bring in in order to contradict Thomas’s findings.  By eliciting the argument of commerce and the prosperity of the town, Peter is able to sway public opinion by denouncing Thomas’s findings as fantastical fallacies. Peter’s personal vendetta to remain in power and to make the town that he runs economically prosperous blinds him to the findings of Thomas. With the evidence of the contamination of the water not palpable and only present in Thomas’s data, it is easy for Peter to place his interests above what is morally “right”. By turning the numbers against Thomas, which were originally partisan to Thomas, Peter is able to declare Thomas’s argument to be insufficient proof and additionally bereft of common sense. As Thomas laments in Act IV, “The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom amongst us in the compact majority, yes, the damned compact Liberal majority– that is it!”.

Interestingly enough, it is not the compact majority which originated as the enemy, but rather the greed of Peter Stockman and the economical status of the town which orchestrated the demise of a man and the implied ultimate collapse of a town .



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4 responses to “Greed and Economy: The True Enemies of the People

  1. I agree with you about how Peter was able to undermine the findings of Dr. Stockman. Peter cited the revenue that the Baths bring to the city- very tangible data- compared to Dr. Stockman’s claims of the pollution in the Baths; which, as a common person of little background in science, is much more difficult to believe. I do not think that Peter does not believe that Thomas’s findings are not true as you state but rather that he tries to convince himself and others of this because he knows that if he were to let himself accept Thomas’s findings as true there would be many economical consequences associated with that.

  2. Samantha Cooke

    I agree completely. Not simply in this play, but in many other literary works, greed and its close cousin, capitalism or money, is shown to be the major agent of tragedy, the enemy of the protagonist and/or the people around him (or her). Here, as you stated, all the townspeople shift their support from Dr. Stockman because they worry about the impact on the economy and their wallets. They toss out Dr. Stockman’s findings as inconsequential because it is more convenient (and economical) to believe he is wrong than to consider the ramifications of his research or their own moral obligation to correct the problem.

  3. stperry1

    I agree that economy and greed played that majority role in this play and ultimately became the “true enemies of the people”. Throughout the play the vast influence that money plays in deciding the fate of not only a town but the public at large is incredibly important. Although Peter acts as an agent of these issues, he would not have been able to so easily turn the entire town against Thomas unless the other citizens had also been heavily concerned about the town’s economy suffering from believing the Baths were contaminated. As this becomes the primary concern of the people Peter is able to complete his destruction of Thomas and force him to become the visible enemy of the people.

  4. vrosengrant20

    The economy, along with how Peter Stockmann discusses it, does play a big part in the text, especially how the townspeople only side with the Mayor once he reveals that they would have to be the ones to pay for the reconstruction of the baths. Once the people learn that they will have to sacrifice time and money if they continue to support Dr. Stockmann, they simply choose the easier option of dismissing the evidence as lies. Peter Stockmann helps this process along by giving them the easier option and using his authority and charisma to give the people an excuse to follow his word. The people never needed a great debate or evidence in order to change their opinion, just the reminder of what they would lose if they did not.

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