Tag Archives: Morality

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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Political Morality – What is right?

When reading An Enemy of the People, I can’t help but notice the constant question of what is right when it comes to the decisions to be made by the people in charge of the town. From the very beginning, there is a disagreement about whether the baths should be closed, posing the question of who should be sacrificed, those who come to the baths for healing or the entire town. As the play progresses the question turns into if it is right to sacrifice Dr. Stockmann for the good of the town. More simply, this play is a question of sacrificing a few for the good of the whole.

Ibsen often wrote about current social issues, and the question posed in Enemy of the People was definitely current to him. Leading up to the 1870s, there was great political shifts in Europe, which included the movement from autocratic monarchies to forms of government that empowered the citizen. Many political leaders at the time believed in Utilitarianism, which is a philosophical school that preaches the greatest good for the greatest number. I feel like Ibsen wrote this play to challenge this philosophy, because you have someone who is advocating the greatest good for the greatest number (Peter Stockmann) even though he is covering up the truth.

As Dr. Stockmann begins his fight for what he believes is right, he says “They have tried to rob me of my most elementary rights as a man……. they have tried to degrade me, to make a coward of me, to force me to put personal interests before my most sacred convictions.” (Ibsen 35) Here he is saying that by trying to cover up the truth, Peter was depriving his brother of the most basic rights, his freedom to think and to speak his mind. Obviously Thomas did not subscribe to the Utilitarian philosophy, and he is constantly challenging it with his pursuit of the truth. Ibsen, however, does not answer explicitly state what the right thing to do is in this play, so we must read and decide for ourselves.


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Alienation as a Result of Family Loyalty vs. Morality

Although there are many themes in An Enemy of the People, the one that was most prevalent to me was the issue of family loyalty vs. morality and it’s role of alienation in a community.

Dr. Stockmann is left with a difficult choice of letting the people know about the contaminations of the baths or keeping it hidden in effort to protect his job, family, and reputation. At a time when the idea of bacteria wasn’t very accepted, Dr. Stockmann decides to stay loyal to his findings and tell the people that the baths are contaminated. After he tells the town, they declare him an enemy of the people.

Once declared an enemy, Dr. Stockmann is alienated from their town, as well as the rest of his family and Horster. The children get kicked out of school, Dr. Stockmann loses his job, and Horster is fired from his job as captain of a ship. Even though Dr. Stockmann did what was morally just in his point of view, the town sees that he is an enemy. His brother, Peter, only adds to the furry by siding with the public due to the fact that Dr. Stockmann has gone against family loyalty and the baths without evident “proof”. Dr. Stockmann is alienated from his community due to the fact that everyone around him has similar ideals to his brother in saying, “We dared not do otherwise on account of public opinion.” (Act 5).  To me, An Enemy of the People shows how the issue between family loyalty and doing what’s right don’t always lead to the same resolution. This play teaches a valuable lesson of standing up for what you believe in, regardless of circumstance.

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