Tag Archives: An Enemy of the People

Spiderman vs. An Enemy of the People

After writing my essay on An Enemy of the People, I started taking offense to the notion that “the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone” because while I understand that standing up for what you believe in, though you may be the minority, takes courage alienating yourself from everyone does not automatically make you strong (82).  For a counterexample I offer Spiderman, though I understand being startled at how I am using a comic book character in relation to an old play by Ibsen but bear with me.  Spiderman is known not only for his powers but also for his difficulties in his social and familial life that is exacerbated by being a superhero.  Yet, Spiderman continues to care about his family and friends even when they are exposed to danger by his presence, such as Mary Jane being held hostage in each movie and Aunt May being shot in the Back in Black comic book.  This shows Spiderman’s strengths since he is willing to risk the grief of losing his loved ones and is also willing to go through the extra work of saving them in order to maintain his relationships.  This leads to reciprocation with Spiderman’s friends lending their physical strength, this usually being the Fantastic Four, and emotional support.  These symbiotic relationships prove that Spiderman becomes stronger and healthier as he relies on the people around him and continues to care for them.  Ibsen’s quote comes off as narrow-minded in this sense with how the situation where this applied was when the character was obviously right and everyone around him was either a mindless follower or the enemy.  While I understand how it takes a great amount of strength to stand alone, I do not believe that it would make you the neither strongest nor most virtuous.

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Using An Enemy of the People and A Small Place to Reinterpret Capitalism

What has drawn me to write my final paper on A Small Place and An Enemy of the People is that the message of these books can have profound real-world consequences if interpreted correctly and taken seriously. Granted, most of the books we have read make some important statement about the nature of humanity, but these books, I feel, apply the most to our present society and problems in our country. With correct interpretation, these novels can lend some insight on how to re-interpret and analyze global politics. The part most useful to me in An Enemy of the People is when Dr. Thomas Stockman is ostracized by his community because his ideas are at odds with capitalist notions. Many parts of A Small Place will be helpful for my paper, especially when Kincaid speaks of how England, as a byproduct of their capitalism, left behind a disfranchised people. My paper will argue how these two books prove that capitalism, simply by selecting a group to be included, must always exclude some, and how it is in the nature of this system to sometimes take advantage of these disfranchised groups. My paper will also look at how these books may be used to reinterpret capitalism and how we may use these books to provide social and political insight into many of the global problems of today.  Things that I would like to explore further are:

  1. What exactly is the colonial history of Antigua? How does their past involvement in Britain’s capitalist system influence their political and economic success today?
  2. What are some issues today that represent a trade-off between economic success and morality such as the issue of the baths in An Enemy of the People? How do these issues tend to be decided?
  3. How do capitalist systems create disenfranchised groups in the novels and in real life?

 

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Elements of Science Fiction and Defining Humanity in The Island of Dr. Moreau

Even though the genre of The Island of Dr. Moreau can be debated, as  I read the story I interpreted as science fiction. This is due to the many scientific elements in the novel that are stretched farther than they actually go in real life. With the scientific context of the book, the reader gets the impression that these humanized animals can actually be created in the lab. During the time the book was written, this was an actual fear of many people since vivisection was just started to become present in experiments. However, today this may seem a lot more far fetched than it did at the time and would be seen as highly immoral. When explaining what is happening on the island to Prendick, Dr. Moreau mentions how it is a science that has been delved into before, thus giving the science in the story credibility. “You forget all that a skilled vivisector can do with living things…alterations in the secretion of fatty tissue. I have no doubt that you have heard of these things? ” (pg 45) Most science fiction furthers innovations and discoveries that have already been made and exaggerates them, this is exactly what H.G. Wells does in this novel. With this novel, Wells even leads the reader to question what defines humanity. The animals that Moreau has humanized in the story look enough like men, however he can never get rid of their animalistic tendencies completely. The Beast Men are in a constant battle to maintain what makes them men as opposed to beasts. Prendick makes this realization in Chapter 16, “Before, they had been beasts, their instinct fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living as things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackle of humanity…” (pg 65) This also brings the question of morality at hand, not only do they undergo an immense amount of pain during the changing of their body, they also have to live in denial of their basic instincts for the rest of their life.

This novel also relates to quite a few of the other stories that we have read for class. It makes connections with The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, An Enemy of the People, and Bluebeard. The Island of Dr. Moreau like The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe brings the theme of the Island out. Dr. Moreau’s island does differ greatly from Prospero’s and Crusoe’s island, but it has the element that Crusoe is ruling his own island. Moreau creates laws and rules over his beast men, which mirrors how Prospero and Crusoe rule their respective islands. What really sets them apart though is that Moreau creates a law system and the people on the island, whereas Prospero and Crusoe claim an already occupied island and never create laws, they just assume power. Also, Moreau lacks the colonial aspects of The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe. The Island of Dr. Moreau also draws connections with An Enemy of the People since Dr. Moreau was hated by the public when some of his lab experiments were exposed. This is very similar to how Dr. Stockmann became an enemy of the people for trying to expose the polluted water of the baths in his town. However, Moreau goes away and continues to experiment in peace while Thomas stays and tries to spread his discoveries, but clearly both are men of science and innovation. Another story we’ve read that The Island of Dr. Moreau connects with is Bluebeard, it is even mentioned in the story, “Our little island establishment here contains a secret or so, is kind of a Blue-Beard’s chamber, in fact.” Although Prendick not being allowed in the lab at first is not a defining characteristic of the novel, it still draws a very clear comparison to the fairy tale Bluebeard.

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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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Might vs. Right in An Enemy of the People

Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People is brimming with different and, at times, conflicting ideals. I believe that Ibsen wrote in this way with purpose: every audience member is to leave the theatre with a different experience from everyone else. There is not to be one universal truth to the play; to have an entire group of people agreed on one point would defeat the entire purpose.  Of course, by my stating such an opinion would probably be contradicting someone else’s! The theme that spoke to me most in Enemy, however, is that of “might vs. right.” The play implies that might is not always right, nor indeed does right have might to support it.

In the first two acts, Dr. Stockmann repeatedly states that he has a “compact majority” and the “liberal-minded independent press” (Ibsen 191) behind him, those two being his “might.” The doctor assumes that his might will follow him because he is right.  He does not even consider the townspeople and the government not bowing to his study about the Baths. Peter Stockmann assumes the opposite: he knows he has power and assumes that every decision made by him and his might is necessarily the best decision. Once both men are faced with opposition from each other, they are immediately on the defensive instead of hearing other ideas. Dr. Stockmann in fact speaks fairly violently as he describes that he “shall smite them to the ground – I shall crush them – I shall break down all their defences, before the eyes of the honest public!” (224). As the play continues, we see the evolution of Dr. Stockmann as he goes from a self-assured man with some supporters to a screaming, slightly unstable man who has only one person on his side. He certainly does not do any favors for himself by calling his fellow townspeople “curs” and lame animal (259) when faced with opposition. He may still be right to close the Baths, but he certainly is not right in his classism. The townspeople, despite appearing unified against the doctor, prove that they are not in the final act of the play, as people only act against the family because they “dare risk not.” (269) The people of the town only have might when they are together; when separated, it is apparent that their right and unification are only thin veils for their uncertainty.

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The Effect of Animosity

The problems that plague the city stem from a combination of Dr. Stockman’s naivety and inability to understand how much of the town’s economy relies of the bath and Peter Stockman’s willingness to use his brother as a scapegoat in order to allow for less work for himself.  Instead of compromising, each of the brothers makes it harder for the other to come to a better solution.  Dr. Stockman starts by spreading his information before first notifying his brother and thinking about the consequences of such information.  In response, the Mayor tries to stop him by going too far by agreeing that the pollution in the Baths is all Dr. Stockman’s “imagination” (43).  This lie turns the town against Dr. Stockman and even outright refuse to hear about the scientific evidence that started the whole debacle.  The Mayor may have been the one to use slander to get his way, but Dr. Stockman is equally responsible for the issues due to him going to the press as soon as his brother did not yield to his demands.  Dr. Stockman may have had good intentions, but soon became obsessed with his own ideals and lashes out at the populace.  Each of the brothers overreact and allow their own animosities to taint any solution they create so that it devalues the opinions and solutions of the other, thus creating a cycle of revenge that ultimately destroys the reputation of Dr. Stockman and the future health of the town.

 

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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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Minority is Right

There is so much in this play, and I think there are many ideas that Ibsen was expressing when he wrote this play.  One of these things government in general, specifically with the “minority” being right.

I find it interesting that Dr. Stockmann did not really think through how his accusations of the baths would come across to the other members of the town.  He thought that by presenting the truth about what was going on, everyone would be in complete shock and would be in support of the doctor.  This obviously did not happen, the townspeople thought he was insane!

When the town meeting was held and Dr. Stockmann addressed the townspeople about what was going on with the baths, he did more than just talk about the baths.  He talked a lot about the government and how corrupt it is.  All through this scene, Dr. Stockmann is cut off and not able to completely say what he wants to about the matters at hand.  At one point, he puts it rather simply:  “The majority has might on its side- unfortunately; but right it has not. I am in the right- I and a few other scattered individuals.  The minority is always in the right.”  (Ibsen, 59)

This quote shows how Dr. Stockmann views the government of his town:  that they may be a powerful force going against him, but they might not necessarily be correct.  He is confident that the minority will always be morally sound and correct, no matter how powerful the majority is.

In ACT V, we see how difficult it is for Dr. Stockmann and his family while they are nearly removed from the community.  Dr. Stockmann has lost his job, the town is going to refuse getting and treatment from him so he would not be able to practice medicine, Petra was also dismissed from her school, and Ejlif and Morten were told to take a break from their school for a few days.  Seeing this, Dr. Stockmann resolves to move his family to the “new world,” for he thinks they need to completely move out of their country and start fresh.

After having numerous visitors visit Dr. Stockmann at his home, he learns the reason for the pollution of the baths is from Morton Kiils tannery.  After this, he gets an idea that comes with sudden confidence that the Stockmann’s are not going to move.    “No,  I’ll be hanged if we are going away!…”  (Ibsen, 80)

Dr. Stockmann intends for his family to stay in their town, and he is going to start a school and teach his sons and some “street urchins” how to become “liberal-minded and high-minded men.”  (Ibsen, 82)

Since Dr. Stockmann is up against the entire town with the matter of the baths and politics, he is going to use to his benefit the impressionable boys of the town so that they might one day have a very great impact in the town and be able to make some big changes.  At the end of the play, Dr. Stockmann seems to be not as ostracized and defeated as he was even earlier in the same scene.  He is using the resources he has to one day make sure that right prevails in his town.

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Business VS. The Moral Code

Everyone has heard the term “this is business” to imply that questionable or even hurtful actions taken in relation to financial issues do not count and can be excused because they are for the benefit of progress.  Even if this theory could work in some instances, it is the reality that the words fall short of what the phrase intends.  When it comes to real life any actions taken have ramifications regardless of how an individual decides to justify them in their mind.  An Enemy of the People displays this perfectly in relation to the Stockmanns and the decisions they make regarding the Baths.
Peter and Dr. Stockmann offer excellent opposing ideas to the issue of following a moral code when a business or financial situation could be at risk.  Peter decides that regardless of who may suffer it is more important to put the businesses and the town’s economic situation ahead of health issues and is in favor of keeping vital information from the public.  The doctor though, following his moral code, despite his brother’s and the towns attempts to “degrade me, to make a coward of me, to force me to put personal interests before my most sacred convictions.” (Ibsen 35), decides to be honest and tell the public the truth.  This is an important contrast that is shown throughout the play, especially when Dr. Stockmann is socially ostracized for doing what is truly right and informing the public that the Baths are dangerous.  Dr. Stockmann does not believe that a financial end will justify the means of putting many people in danger, whereas his brother is confident that protecting the economic standing of the town is too important and trumps the safety of the people.  Although it is business, there is still a serious divide as to whether or not that fact can justify actions as serious as public health.  This play presents the never ending battle between doing what is easy and beneficial versus doing what is right and forces the reader to explore his or her own feelings.

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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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