Tag Archives: Greed

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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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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